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Creating Diversity Awareness through Black History Month

What’s the value of celebrating Black History Month?  Recognized in the US and Canada in February and in other countries, such as Ireland and the UK, in October, Black History Month provides us with opportunities to share, acknowledge, and honor how the contributions and presence of Black people have undeniably enriched our world. During February, GP Strategies recognized Black History Month by showcasing a variety of themed communications that included Black historical figures, GP Strategies employees, thought leaders, and culture. We also launched an email signature campaign to show our support internally and to our clients and highlighted Black History Month along with a panel of Black business owners in our Black + Allies Employee Resource Group. Lastly, we encouraged open discussions via Yammer not just about Black history, but our present as well, which spanned topics from favorite Black centered films to soul food and even Black-owned businesses. 

Maya Angelou said, “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”  The energy of this quote speaks to a personal journey, but we can apply it to why we collectively celebrate Black History Month as well. When we make the choice to learn more about what it means to be Black in this world, especially during Black History Month, we can then start to consciously grow together into doing more and being more than we were before as human beings. This is what connects us. This annual event is not just about understanding and valuing the past, our common history.  It is also about our present, and how we can use that history, although experienced differently for each of us, to create a deeper awareness of how our shared evolution brought us from what was to what is, the dynamics of past and present, and all the good and bad that comes with it. That’s the true power of Black History Month.  That’s the real value proposition: awareness becoming action for change. Awareness is a full-time gig, something we can’t undo, but can easily forget. So, knowing must turn to doing, not just for one month, but always. 

We can cultivate our awareness by continuously verifying that we are exposing ourselves to the Black experience itself. That requires proactive effort. Reflect on your social networks, personal and professional; are they diverse? Do you read books, watch movies or television shows, or listen to music that is a direct product of Black influence and culture?  When was the last time you researched and discovered a new, and perhaps shocking, truth about Black history? We must evaluate where we are currently to move forward with the right intention. So, it’s about taking that first, next step on your awareness journey.  What’s one thing you can do today to connect to a stronger understanding of the Black experience, no matter where you are in the world? That one thing does not have to change the world overnight or even exist on a grand scale. Start small and mature from there. 

To help with that next step, we offer a set of lists produced from our collaborative, online Yammer interactions, curated by GP Strategies employees this February. Our hope is that this compilation serves as a conduit for awareness, connection, and positive change. Each section comes with reflection questions to consider, so that we can possibly start to move from surface appreciation and recognition to a deeper level of comprehension and critical perspective taking. We are in this journey together, but it is critical that we each stay accountable to how our individual actions and presence contribute to the greater good. Enjoy and explore the lists, learn, and act. Remember, our growth is our responsibility. Make the investment. Take the time. Do the work. It matters. 

Black Centered Films

Films, like any other form of art, connect us quite a bit. We can gain insight into a character’s lived experiences just by sitting on our couch or in a theater.  Here is a list of some our employees’ favorite Black movies with reflection opportunities: 

A Raisin in the Sun
Blackboard Jungle
In the Heat of the Night
The Help
They Call me Mr. Tibbs
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?
Green Book
The Temptations Documentary
Hidden Figures
To Sir with Love
Waiting to Exhale
Antwone Fischer
The Hate You Give
The Mighty Quinn
Hitsville: The Making of Motown
The Color Purple

REFLECTION: With so many great movies, new and remembered, listed above, how can we move from enjoying a film to applying what we learned from the movie to better create a call to action housed within empathy, inclusion, and the human condition? How many of these life lessons resonate and stay with us? What does representation in film do for the Black experience?

Soul Food

Just like films, food is a universal connector. For many cultures, our food is an integral part of our ancestral legacy, with recipes passed down from generation to generation. Soul food is no exception.  See what our employees shared as some of their favorite soul food recipes in the list below, including an article on the history of soul food, with reflection opportunities afterward.

Favorite Soul Food Recipes

The Humble History of Soul Food via Black Foodie

Vegan corn bread recipe via Allrecipes

Baked homemade macaroni and cheese recipe via Allrecipes

Southern fried okra recipe via Taste of Home

Here is a family recipe submitted by Stephanie Wedgeworth, Product Trainer, GP Strategies:

Mama Wedgeworth’s Best Pecan Pie

3 tablespoons butter

1 cup sugar

3 eggs

1 1/2 tablespoons flour

1 cup dark or white corn syrup

1-2 cups pecans (up to you if you want chopped or whole)

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 unbaked pie crust 8” (not deep)

Cream butter and sugar first. Add remaining ingredients and pour in unbaked pie crust. Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes. Cover with foil and parchment paper to prevent over-browning and lower to 350 degrees and cook for approximately one hour. Let it cool and dig in!

REFLECTION: How can you discover more about the origins of soul food? How do family recipes shape your own culture and experiences? How has soul food evolved over time? What soul food dish will you introduce to your table?

Favorite Black Owned Businesses

Part of supporting our communities also includes supporting Black owned and minority owned businesses. At GP Strategies, we continuously strive to partner with minority owned vendors to help support diversity and inclusion in procurement, but there are things we can do as individuals, as well. This is where awareness turns into action. Our employees shared their favorite Black owned businesses in the amazing list below. Don’t forget to check out the reflection questions.

Vegan Fine Foods – Vegan market, beauty care, and cafe

Kery Kay Candle Co – Vegan aromatherapy, candles, and other goods

la Peach Cobbler – Homemade peach cobblers

Online cooking classes by Chef Brother Luck

EyeSeeMe – African American Children’s Bookstore

reel paper – 100% bamboo toilet paper and paper towels

40 Acre Candle and Gift Co – Candles and gifts

Brown Women Wellness and Podcast Well, Honestly – Holistic health and wellness

Kinetic Bodies Fitness – Online fitness classes and personal training

Neighborhood Fiber Co – Hand-Dyed yarns

Paisley Paper Co – Cards and paper goods

REFLECTION: How can you support Black owned businesses in your own community? What’s the next purchase you will commit to buying from a Black owned business? What’s the value in buying from a Black owned business? What challenge(s) might Black business owners face today related to social injustice or discrimination? 

This is a movement, not a moment. As one of many moments, we recognize Black History Month each year, and then build our movement towards collective awareness, action, and change every single day.  

Check out more ways to celebrate!

About the Authors

James Garza
James Garza (he/him/his) currently serves as a Leadership and DE&I Consultant at GP Strategies. With 20 years in leadership, organizational, and content development, James helps organizations and leaders first understand the power behind belonging, fulfillment, and purpose at work, and then supports their journey in creating environments that produce those same ideas. He follows a fully consultative approach by clearly understanding current organizational objectives and identifying ways to align those goals against culture and leadership development, process efficiency, and overall future potential. Starting out in operational training, James has held leadership and consultant positions in the areas of customer experience, employee engagement, technical training, leadership development, and quality assurance. He has assisted companies in creating global leadership development programs from the ground up, with a continuous focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I). James has led organizational DE&I initiatives related to Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), diversity and inclusion training, policy and procedure equity review, and executive communication and coaching. He recently designed the GP Strategies DE&I product portfolio in partnership with a peer expert, Dwight Bailey, Owner of FirstServe Leaders, and most recently designed and hosted webinars on the topics of: Bias & Microaggressions, Impact of Racism, and Creating an Anti-Racist Organization. He brings a unique perspective to the world of DE&I as a gay, bi-racial man who is also a father to two special needs sons. Those life experiences motivate him to always work with others using empathy and kindness, believing that we are all more alike than we are different.

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