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What is Black History Month?

Black History Month is both a time to celebrate and a time to learn about and understand Black history and culture.

For the entire month, a wide range of events are held across the country celebrating African and Caribbean cultures and histories, including everything from food festivals to music workshops, educational seminars and lectures.

When is Black History Month 2022?

In the UK, Black History Month takes place every October.

How did Black History Month start?

Looking back in history, the Black History Month we know today has its origins in Negro History Week which was created in February 1926 in the United States by African American historian Carter G. Woodson

This celebration was held annually on the second week of February, as Black communities celebrated Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on February 12 and Frederick Douglas’s on February 14.

In the aftermath of the slave trade, the purpose of the week-long celebration was to remind and educate the African American people about their contribution to the world and its history. 

At the time, Woodson felt that the teaching of black history was essential for the physical and intellectual survival of the race within broader society, “If a race has no history,” he said, “it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.”

During Negro History week, teachers and churches would distribute the Journal of Negro History which was the official literature associated with the event.

Black History Month 1970

As Negro History Week grew in popularity, black educators and students at Kent State University argued that a week was not long enough and proposed a month-long event. 

The first Black History Month was celebrated at Kent State University from January 2-February 28, 1970.

In 1976 Black History Month was celebrated across the country in conjunction with the United States Bicentennial celebrations.  

At this time President Gerald Ford formally recognised the month and urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honour the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavour throughout our history”.

Why is October Black History Month?

During the Thatcher era, following the Brixton, Tottenham and Toxteth riots, Black Britons were experiencing high levels of marginalisation and racism. 

In response to this, Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, a Ghanaian analyst and activist, who was working as the Special Projects Officer at the Greater London Council coordinated the first official Black History Month event on 1st October 1987, with speaker Dr Maulana Karenga, the originator of Kwanzaa. 

The annual celebration of African American culture is held from December 26 to January 1 in the US.

Since then, the popularity and breadth of celebrations have grown exponentially into the widely celebrated national programme that we see today.

Is there a theme for Black History Month 2022?

Each year, Black History Month has a different theme to focus on throughout the month.

This year’s theme for Black History Month 2022 is Time for Change: Action Not Words.

Why is Black History Month important?

Black History Month is an opportunity to start conversations about race.

Conversations about race are important to have in the workplace because it supports an organisation’s anti-racism work and encourages a two-way dialogue and conversation about race between Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic and White employees. 

This is important for building relationships, rapport and trust among colleagues.

Understanding the controversy over Black History Month

Despite its widespread growth, the celebration of Black History Month, both in the United States and the United Kingdom has not been without controversy.  

For example, some believe that the intense focus on the topic of Black History for just one month a year is misplaced, instead, the focus should be on integrating Black History Into mainstream education, news, and culture. 

Additionally, others feel that Woodson’s original inspiration for the celebration; educating and reminding Black people of their contribution to the world and its history, is often reduced to representations of Black Historical figures as simply slaves and colonial subjects.  

As part of these celebrations, it is critical that we dig deep and explore the origins of Black History within our countries, debunk any myths, and look broadly at the contributions made by Black people across a range of disciplines and areas of public life.

Another often raised criticism is that the act of separating Black stories and Black historical contributions helps to further perpetuate racism and separation.  

For example, in 2005 actor Morgan Freeman noted, “I don’t want a Black history month. Black history is American history.”

Building on these perspectives, there is now a growing consensus that we cannot rely on Black History Month alone to address systemic issues of racism, nor can we rely solely on what is taught in schools.  

We all need to be conscious of the positive achievements and contributions of Black people in our countries as well as relevant colonial history.  We need to take individual responsibility for our education and levels of awareness and reflection.  

Combined, all of these approaches will help to chip away at entrenched attitudes, behaviours and biases and support wider culture and structural reform in our organisations.

How can organisations plan for Black History Month?

Celebrating Black History Month at work is important and should be planned effectively and collaboratively, not just for the sake of it.

Here are some ideas for planning ahead of time for Black History Month:

  • Invite Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic colleagues, including any race networks, to discuss the event and share any objectives that could be achieved through the campaign.
  • Prepare a project plan and assign tasks to members of your team to help promote awareness of Black History Month
  • Inclusive Employers members can download a copy of our Black History Month Toolkit for tips on what you may need to consider in your plans. 
  • Purchase your copy of the Inclusive Employers’ anti-racism toolkit, Building anti-racist cultures: a toolkit for your workplace
  • Inclusive Employers members can contact their account manager for more support and guidance.  

Things to do for Black History Month

Celebrating Black History month and supporting Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic colleagues during this month is extremely important. 

So, if you’re searching for things to do for Black History Month at work, here are a few celebration ideas to get you started:

Create a safe space

Take action to make workplaces a safe space for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic colleagues and customers e.g., review your policies and protections that affect these colleagues and customers.

Share Black History Month facts and knowledge

Make sure to share facts and knowledge about Black History Month with those in your organisation.

By raising awareness and educating on the month, people will gain a deeper understanding of Black History and culture.

Attend webinars and events 

By attending webinars and events, you will raise awareness about Black History and why it is important to educate ourselves on this topic.

Get together and share Black History Month recipes

Arrange for some Black History Month recipes, food, and learning. Celebrating all aspects of the culture can be a great opportunity for conversation and learning.

Consider making recipe cards for people to try at home, or arrange for some food to be prepared for your workplace!

Promote the visibility of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people

A great Black History Month celebration idea is to promote the visibility of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people within an organisation by inviting these colleagues to share their experiences at meetings, events or webinars.  

Volunteer with Black-led charities

Consider team volunteering for Black-led charities and non-profit organisations.

This is a great way to help the Black community while also making a significant difference.

Share resources with your colleagues 

By sharing Black History Month resources, you can help deepen your colleagues understanding of what it means to be anti-racist and how we can support Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic colleagues. 

If you’re a member of Inclusive Employers, you can access our race resources here. If you’re not a member, you can purchase our anti-racism toolkit or get in touch to see how we can help.

Closing thoughts

If you are stuck with how to celebrate Black History Month at work or want to learn more about what your organisation can do – get in touch today to see how we can help.

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