My Black History Month: Reflections of Authenticity and Inclusion in the Workplace

Shayla Wilson, MPH

March 5, 2021

March 5, 2021 – I knew going into February that this past Black History Month (BHM) needed to be a special one. In less than a year, we’ve witnessed public assassinations of Black lives in streets across the U.S. We’ve seen the deeply rooted inequities of the American healthcare system rear its ugly head while dealing with a global pandemic. We’ve even observed a massive insurrection by people who believe that every vote of all U.S. citizens shouldn’t be counted equally. And on a personal level, I experienced the loss of my family’s matriarch, my 96-year-old grandmother who was raised in the Jim Crow south.

Despite the tragedy and consistent reminders of misfortune, I optimistically wanted this BHM to be one of celebration and joy – a constant reminder of the greatness of Black people through the decades. My paternal grandmother, also raised in the Jim Crow south, was a firm believer that food and the arts were the great connectors. When thinking through possible activities for our month of celebration at work, I knew we needed to weave in both. One night I thought of about ten things we could do during the month (all of which I thought would not fly and may have been slightly lofty), but before suggesting it to a wider group, I wanted to run my ideas through our now Vice President and Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Chanta’ Stewart.

As always, Chanta’ was very supportive of the ideas and scheduled a U.S. BHM planning session with a few colleagues. By then I had evolved the concepts into a unified theme, “Embrace. Engage. Enjoy.” What transpired over the month of February was a series of fun events and thoughtful exchanges of EKers across the globe, which was way more exciting than I could have ever imagined.

  • Each week we released a playlist spotlighting genres of music created by Black artists and inspired by monumental Black experiences since slavery including blues, jazz, R&B and hip-hop. We also created a dedicated playlist to revolutionary records, which are songs of survival, freedom and expression that directly speak to the Black experience in America during some of the toughest times. Luckily for you, fellow music lovers, we’ve collated the weekly playlists into one full playlist on Spotify.
  • We hosted a fun and engaging night of Black trivia and cinema. With three rounds of trivia consisting of multiple choice, true/false and fill-in-the-blank questions, we were able to sip and share knowledge and fun times leading up to our viewer’s choice movie night selection, BlackKklansman. During and after the movie, we shared honest emotions and collective sadness that times haven’t changed much.
  • To close out the month we participated in a virtual cooking class led by our very own Constance Brown. In preparation for the virtual fun, we dropped a surprise Cookout Classics playlist to introduce the importance of the cookout to Black families and communities. That night, we came together for some soul food history and to cook a few soul food staples – fried catfish (fried tofu for the vegans/vegetarians), smoked green beans and candied yams. Even the most novice cooks learned how to make a soul food classic by just eyeing measurements.
  • On the final day of the month, we shared a special edition of our EK DE&I newsletter highlighting the history of how BHM came to be, which also linked to the playlists, the virtual cooking class recording and a carefully curated Buy Black product/shopping list to support Black businesses.

As I continue to reflect on this past month, I admittedly am so proud of all that we were able to accomplish. BHM has always been a great time for reflection, remembrance and celebration for me. Growing up in Detroit and attending a Historically Black College and University, BHM was never just one month; it was, and still is, a 365 days a year type of celebration. However, I’ve never been able to celebrate it so authentically in a professional setting. I’m beyond grateful to work for a company that embraces our differences and views them as an opportunity to build more inclusive spaces. I’m a firm believer that we must have honest and transparent conversations about our history so we can learn and grow from it. (As both grandmothers would say, if you don’t know better, you won’t do better – which is likely their personal interpretation of the Ghanaian Sankofa symbol.)

If we are truly dedicated to diversity, equity and inclusion, we must continue to accept our history and celebrate these differences, unlocking the various connections and similarities that will make us empathetic and understanding of our fellow humans. While the last year was tragic in many ways, I’m grateful that it put a magnifying glass to the injustices that continue to plague our country and the work that still needs to be done. It has also, in a really ironic way, encouraged so many Black people and people of color to be more intentional with how they show up in spaces typically dominated by people who don’t look like them. I, like so many within my community, am even more dedicated to shedding light and speaking truth to our experiences. So, here’s to hoping for an even better BHM 2022 and continued celebrations of Black greatness well beyond the short month of February!