Business leaders like you might be wondering how to best recognise Black History Month this October. Think about it as a time of celebration, and a time of reflection too. Black history and black people’s achievements still feel underrecognised. You can contribute by heightening awareness and reassessing inclusivity in the workplace.
When is Black History Month?
Black History Month is celebrated every October in the UK. The first celebration in the country happened in London in 1987, as part of African Jubilee Year. Ghanaian born activist Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, who initiated it, said in a 2017 interview:
“I conceived an annual celebration of the contributions of Africa, Africans and people of African descent to world civilization from antiquity to the present.”
It has grown since, with dedicated events across the country and a Black History Month UK magazine too. For 2023, the magazine "Saluting our Sisters” campaign, in appreciation of every black person’s contribution across different sectors.
The US and Canada celebrate Black History Month in February.
Why and how to acknowledge Black History Month
Worryingly, a 2018 report highlighted persistent issues caused by racism in the workplace. Of all social environments, racist abuse should simply not happen at work. Not only because it is the law, but because people’s livelihood and wellbeing depend on their employment. Nobody wants to put up with abuse, harassment, or victimisation in the workplace.
While recognising that black people still face discrimination in the wider society, your business can contribute to increasing inclusivity.
Start by talking to your employees of African descent. Ask them how you can make the work environment more inclusive. Use an anonymous questionnaire which might encourage people who would shy away from talking directly about any difficulties they might face.
Then look at inviting black speakers who can talk about Black History and racism in our society. Encourage your employees to take a step forward and become speakers themselves. Be mindful though not to single anyone out. The last thing you want to do is to make your black employees feel uncomfortably put on the spot.
What about having a monthly book club in the workplace, and starting it with Black History-related titles this month?
Now you could ask yourself what you can do if not many black people live in the area where you operate.
You do not need to hire people of African descent to celebrate their contribution in the world. Support organisations that work with black people confronted with racial based exclusion. Get involved in Black History Month events, and offer Black History Month resources to your employees. Build that inclusivity step by step, and it will make a difference.
Black personalities in history
Did you know that 2023 marks 62 years since Martin Luther King’s first sermon in London? Link your work celebration this month with such Black History facts.
Names such as Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey and Aretha Franklin speak to most people. But how many black personalities remain unknown to the wider population?
For Black History Month 2023, we chose to focus on these black people and their achievements:
- Alice Ball
The first African American and the first woman to receive a master’s degree in chemistry from the College of Hawaii, Alice discovered the first successful treatment for leprosy. Sadly, she died at only 24.
- Rosa Parks
In 1955, Rosa refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a segregated bus in Alabama. Her act triggered the Montgomery Buss Boycott, followed by nationwide efforts to end segregation on public transport.
- Maya Angelou
Maya’s 1969 memoir, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”, became the first nonfiction bestseller written by an African American woman. A civil rights activities, poet and author, she was acclaimed and recognised throughout her career.
- Mary Prince
The first black woman to publish an autobiography in Britain, Mary became a free woman two years after her book was printed. “The History of Mary Prince”, published in 1831, talked about the horrors of the slave trade.
- Paul Stevenson
Named “our Martin Luther King” in the UK, Dr. Stevenson became Bristol’s first black social worker. One of his most staggering acts, in 1964, brought eight police officers to arrest him in Bristol. His “crime”? He decided to sit in a pub that declined to serve black people and refused to leave when told to do so.
- Olivette Otele
In 2018, Otele was the first black woman to be made Professor in History in the United Kingdom. Not only that, but subsequently she became the first Professor of the History of Slavery.
We chose these very inspirational names for our article today in hope to inspire you. Your Black History Month UK celebration at work could include talking about black personalities. You could offer your employees relevant books written by these people. And you could decide to support one of the campaigns tackling racial inequality, and the way we talk about Black History today.
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