Each February at WBD, we set aside time to pay tribute to African Americans, recognize their struggles, and celebrate their achievements during Black History Month. The month is also a time to honor the legacy of civil rights pioneers and activists such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and others.
How Black History Month Began
In the years following the U.S. Reconstruction era (1865-1877), the importance of Black history scholarship became a cornerstone of civil rights work for leaders like Dr. Carter G. Woodson. Dr. Woodson believed that an annual celebration of Black history would have a lasting impact on future generations of leaders, and he launched Negro History Week in 1926. He chose the second week of February because both President Abraham Lincoln and social-reformer Frederick Douglass were born in February. After Lincoln’s assassination, his February 12th birthday was celebrated by Black Americans and Republicans.
“Dr. Woodson is one of the many African Americans that paved the way for people like me to be able to attend college and make a mark on the world. Oftentimes, I am the only Black woman in the room with a seat at the table, and I admire his hard work and sacrifice. I take pride in continuing the work to pave the path for those behind me so that they can have a seat at the table as well.”
Chantal Symonette, Lead Consultant, Washington Business Dynamics
President Gerald Ford first recognized Black History Month in 1976. Ford challenged the American people to “seize the opportunity to honor the achievements of African Americans.” Since then, every American president has designated February as Black History Month and endorsed a specific theme.
For 2022, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History selected the theme Black Health and Wellness. This includes celebrating the legacies of Black scholars and medical practitioners in Western and traditional medicine throughout the African diaspora as well as the diaspora’s other health and healing practices such as the use of birth workers, doulas, midwives, naturopaths, and herbalists.
“This year’s Black History Month theme of health and wellness brings me to reflect on Ms. Henrietta Lacks — an African American woman whose cancer cells are the source of the HeLa cell line, the first immortalized human cell line. Lacks unknowing sacrifice towards medical history will always be a monumental step in remembering our Black History.”
Astley Davy, Lead Consultant at WBD
“Mental health is essential to personal well-being and is fundamental to our success. Feelings were never discussed in my African American household. Feelings, emotions, and mental health were not something I knew or cared about because I did not think it applied to people who looked like me. Although sixteen percent (4.8 million) of African Americans are living with mental illness in the US, only 1 in 3 are getting the treatment they need. The residual impact of a country built on the system of slavery still permeates our souls. This is not the legacy we want to leave behind! The younger generations are paying more attention to and understand the importance of mental health.”
Will Peters, Lead Consultant at WBD
Reflecting on Black History
African Americans have contributed more than the fight for racial freedom in the United States and around the world. Black History Month offers the time to learn about Black history and celebrate Black power and achievements. Here at WBD, we are taking the time to learn more, including a firm-wide invited talk from Howard University’s Dr. Phiwokuhle Mnyandu.
This month is an opportunity for our WBD family to reflect on the ways African Americans have contributed to the global community we serve every day. In February, we’ll discuss the achievements and struggles of African Americans. We will listen to, learn from, and support our diverse clients, colleagues, and co-workers. And every month, we will keep the conversation moving forward as we focus on genuine inclusivity in our offices and for our clients.
“Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the dream and the hope of the slave. I rise. I rise. I rise.” — Maya Angelou
Author: Angela Suresh, Head of DEIA at WBD, is engaged with the firm’s Private Sector Engagement award with the U.S. Agency for International Development. Angela has recently graduated with her M.A in Strategic Communications from John Hopkins University focusing on diversity, equity, inclusion, and accountability in the workplace.