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Tips to Thoughtfully Celebrate Black History Month

Black History Month — an annual U.S. observance each February — focuses attention on the enormous contributions of Black Americans over generations. It is accompanied by community events, special news coverage, and video curated for streaming. Most importantly, Black History Month raises awareness about our need to learn more about people, places and events that aren’t always included in history textbooks.

Grow Your Knowledge and Understanding

A wise principle is to follow Maya Angelou’s guidance, “Do the best you can, until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” No matter your culture or background, Black History Month is an opportunity to learn more about the Black American experience. 

Discover the story of a Black person who left a legacy as a leader, innovator, artist or other historical figure. Not sure where to start? Research the local hidden figures who have contributed to your community. Or consider learning more about Black professionals who were pioneers in communications, education, health care, business or government

Seek out books, films, music and other art by Black creators. Include Black voices, whether in your reading list, your Spotify queue, your podcast picks or across your social media feeds. Share the creative work you enjoy, and add a note of commentary about something you appreciated.

Consider also how Black communities have navigated deep-rooted obstacles and overcome countless challenges. Gain insight by reading news and information on systemic barriers to housing, education, voting, medical care and mental health services. This can be a practical way to deepen your understanding of Black people’s experiences historically and today. 

And as you learn about the joys and struggles of Black Americans, share what you learn. Consider recommending a resource that helped increase your knowledge and awareness. And take the opportunity in conversation to offer a point of view you’ve gained.

Ideas to celebrate with your audience

While Black History Month offers the chance to learn and share, it can be difficult to know where to begin. After all, the history of Black Americans is as broad and varied as the individuals and communities themselves. Think strategically! Choose topics or historical angles that connect best to your organization or your local community to share with your audiences.  

  • Contact your local historical society or librarian to learn about Black people who broke barriers in your community, state or organization. Look for ways to share a few stories during the month. Or consider intentionally sharing similar posts made by other local groups.
  • Spotlight black-owned businesses in your community. Encourage your followers to support them with foot traffic and purchases
  • Choose a few historical figures who were pioneers in your field. Sharing these stories can lead your audience to learn something new and relevant about history.
  • Invite a Black leader or well-known person in your community to share reflections about their personal or professional life. This could be done in an in-person or virtual event. It could also be shared as a video, audio recording or written reflection.
  • Research Black History Month facts, and share them in Did You Know? posts.
  • For school communications professionals, this list from #SocialSchool4EDU Founder Andrea Gribble includes ideas to highlight Black History Month on school or district social media channels. 

Know When to Speak Up — When to Be Silent

There are times when silence is louder than words. When it comes to underserved, marginalized or minoritized communities, pause and reflect. Leaders and communications professionals are wise to ask if it is better to speak — or simply listen. 

It’s also important to understand and avoid performative allyship. This judgment error can undermine even the most sincere desire to do or say something good. It can be tempting to say something when National Native American History Month, Black History Month or LGBTQ+ Pride Month arrive on the calendar. Adding your voice to these celebrations must align with your policies, practices and core values. Before making a statement, ask yourself, Does this message reflect our day-to-day behaviors the other 11 months of the year?

“If people of color feel ignored or marginalized by your business or school, celebrating Black History Month, Juneteenth or Martin Luther King, Jr. Day will ring hollow,” said Cindy Leines, CEL founder and chief strategist. “In some cases, doing this could even widen the gap of trust with people you aim to serve.”

Before chiming in publicly, consider the work your organization is doing to advance equity for your employees — and the people you serve. Are you concerned about doing better, day in and day out? Have you created systems, programs or structures to hear and meet their needs? Are these groups receiving your best attention and effort?

If the answer is no, not quite or not yet, invest your time and energy in that work. The next time an awareness month rolls around, you’ll be closer to having the essential foundation necessary to use your voice for good.

Seek Unheard Voices — and Amplify Them

Your organization may be committed in word and action to understanding and meeting the needs of Black communities. But that doesn’t mean you have to create original content for Black History Month, or any other awareness event throughout the year. Consider instead if you might seek and amplify the voices of Black Americans.

“We should always be looking for ways we can support voices that aren’t being heard,” Leines said. “And it’s important to view this month not just as people and things that happened in the past. Let’s also pay attention to who those important voices are today, both inside and outside of our organizations. And let’s use our tools to elevate what they are saying.”

Listen in when Black voices cast a bright vision for America’s future. Pay attention to the work required — and your role in it — to create an ever stronger, more equitable nation. Reading a new book by Anna Gifty Opoku-Agyeman is one way to do this. Recently recommended by best-selling author Adam Grant, “The Black Agenda” features insights and ideas from leading Black scholars.

As you identify Black voices for new perspectives or knowledge, challenge yourself to share. How can you use your voice, influence and platform to bring more perspectives and stories to a wider stage? For Black History Month, for example, this might include the National Museum of African American History and Culture or its director Kevin Young — or any number of today’s most influential Black voices, ranging from science, education and art, to business and politics.

Anyone can (and should) use February as a prompt to learn more about the contributions, celebrations and obstacles that define, in part, the lives of Black Americans throughout our nation’s history. And as you consider your options to share with a larger audience, create a message that reflects the values you demonstrate during all 12 months of the year. 

Published on: January 25, 2022