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Feb 26, 2021
As we seek to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion practices both within our organization and in the communities where we live and work, we’ll be highlighting a number of important cultural observances throughout the year. It begins with Black History Month. While the story of Black History Month dates back to more than a century ago, it wasn’t until 1976 that it was declared a national observance.
We spoke with several employees at SMG to understand what Black History Month means to them, who they draw inspiration from, and the role each of us play in creating a more just society.
What does Black History Month mean to you?
For me, Black History Month is a moment to center the Black experience and uplift the lives and struggles of our ancestors. It’s a moment for Black joy and celebration, and a reminder to me that simply existing in this Black body is a revolutionary act. So much of our history has been intentionally erased or watered down. It’s important that we all do the work to learn about not only the contributions of Black Americans in building this country, but also the struggles and contributions of our siblings across the diaspora. I encourage everyone to learn the untold and unfiltered truths about what happened to communities like Black Wall Street and Rosewood. Educate yourself on the Haitian Revolution. Get to know Claudette Colvin, the 15-year-old Black girl who paved the way for Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Read the real history of the Black Panther Party and how programs like public schools providing free meals to underprivileged students is a direct result of their radical organizing.
Who is a notable figure in Black history who inspires you?
As an activist/organizer, my North Stars are ancestors and elders who helped lay the foundation for critical race theory and Black radical tradition like Angela Davis, Assata Shakur, Fred Hampton, Harriet Tubman, James Baldwin, and Marsha P. Johnson. I also can’t answer this question without uplifting the many freedom fighters that I look up to and even call comrades, such as Kayla Reed, Charlene Carruthers, Thenjiwe Mcharris, Montague Simmons, Page May, and so many others. Lastly, I have to uplift how pivotal Black Queer, Non-Binary, and Trans folks have been in our movements for liberation; and while they have not always been at the center, they have always and continue to be on the front line, and we have to acknowledge that.
What can we do to improve social injustice in our country today?
To be honest, I think that often the gravity of what this question is really asking has become somewhat under-realized, which makes it a little tough to answer. There are definitely things that we all can do to mitigate ongoing harm to oppressed groups in our country—like not voting for oppressive leaders or policies, engaging in DEI strategy in the workplace and in other organizations we engage with, donating to organizations that are actively doing anti-oppression work, having tough conversations with the people we know, and using our privilege to show up for those who lack it. But again, those are ways to just mitigate or lessen the harm, not eradicate it altogether. I think we have to realize that oppression is oppression, even when it has a nice bow on it. So, the goal should be for oppression and injustice to not exist at all—full stop. To get there, we have to deepen our understanding and really lean into deep, anthropological analysis about behaviors and systems of oppression like white supremacy, Anti-Blackness, gender oppression, and misogyny. Two great resources on these topics that I suggest for folks to check out are Kimberle Crenshaw’s paper, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics” and “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” by Paulo Freire. Lastly, we have to center the narratives and value the leadership of those who are most impacted, because as Glenn E. Martin said, “those closest to the harm are closest to the solutions.”
Kevin Fraser, Systems Administrator
What is your proudest professional accomplishment?
I feel like breaking into a field where people with similar backgrounds as me are often grossly underrepresented is a major accomplishment. To a certain extent, whether right or wrong, I feel a level of responsibility to show what these underrepresented groups are capable of when afforded equal opportunities as their counterparts.
What advice would you give to young Black professionals entering the workforce?
Be comfortable and confident in who you are. Oftentimes when going into an environment where you are in the minority, it’s common to feel the need to assimilate. However, your individuality, your experiences, and who you are is what got you in the position you are in at that moment. Maintain that.
Start by speaking and listening to those around you who are impacted. That will provide you with a good foundation to understanding that will help to guide your efforts.
Too often in our history, the contributions of Blacks have been either diminished, overlooked, forgotten, or our stories were told for us. Black History month is a time to celebrate the beauty of everything that we are and everything our people have accomplished.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. No one who is ever successful did it alone. I would encourage the young folks to seek out a mentor.
Why is diversity, equity, and inclusion important in the workplace?
Representation matters. If you can see it, you can be it. Opportunity is not something that is equally distributed. Too often, places and spaces tell us in subtle (and not so subtle) ways that “we don’t belong here.” DEI initiatives help change that narrative.