Black History Month: A lesson in history, identity, and representation

Every February, Black History Month honors the incredible contributions of the Black community.

As an African American woman, February is an important month for me. This isn’t just about Black history, it’s about American history. It’s an emphasis on literacy, and about digging deeper into the struggles of the community, both past and present. For me, this is a chance to celebrate Black achievements and provide a fresh reminder to take stock of where systemic racism persists, while also giving visibility to the people and organizations creating change. I believe you can't completely understand our country's politics, wealth, or the fragility of our democracy without acknowledging the global footprint of Black people.  

A woman of color in tech 

As a Black woman in tech, carving a path out for myself hasn’t been without challenges. Early on in my career, there have been times when I was penalized for being overly ambitious. Since I was the only Black woman in the company, I felt scrutinized and I was aware of the fact that I may be seen as a representative of my race. I would constantly feel that my individual successes or failures would reflect on people like me. 

However, I never allowed those experiences to get in the way of pursuing my goals nor did I allow them to keep me down. I never gave up or lost hope that things could improve. Today, while the voices and experiences of the Black community are definitely amplified, I still see the representation gap. My goal is to nurture a tribe facilitated by other women of color. I think it’s important for others to understand, when we talk about creating these spaces dedicated for women of color and marginalized groups it’s not that we’re trying to be exclusive, it’s really that we are trying to pull ourselves up “from our bootstraps.''

Drawing inspiration from family

There are so many people from the Black community that I look up to. But the one person who has served as an inspiration and has helped me become the person I am today is my mother. She and my father came to America from the Caribbean, Jamaica, and West Indies in search of a better opportunity. After a divorce, she was focused on completing her education and working her way up the corporate ladder. By the time she completed her MBA, my mother beat the odds and successfully navigated the corporate world as a Black woman. 

My mother played such a vital role in shaping the way that I viewed myself. She taught me the importance of self worth and respect. But most importantly, she taught me love.

"I always had a kind of unvarnished pride in my upbringing; none of the assumptions people seemed to have about Black families headed by 'single mothers' applied to my life."

As the only daughter and youngest of two children, I became the focus of my mother’s attention and resources. 

That investment in my success and happiness was supplemented by the love, and time of other adults in our family, especially my grandmother, who lived in the same suburban neighborhood not too far from us. My mother was a very involved and hands-on parent. I would refer to her as “liberally strict.” She constantly looked out for us and  knew all of our friends and our whereabouts, but she also encouraged us to be independent and accountable for our actions.

Representation matters

Creating a workplace that reflects a society where everyone feels seen, heard, valued, and empowered to succeed is important, now more than ever. As business leaders, investing in communities of color at work is a crucial step in creating equality in the workplace — from diversifying your candidate pool for every position, to creating systemic change within the company, and supporting your employees of color through inclusive programs like mentorship.  

Organizations need to understand the value of connections and community. It’s simple: people do their best work when they feel a sense of belonging at their workplace. For Black employees who may have already felt like the “others” in organizations where those in power are primarily white and male, the failure to address and discuss the current climate and its implications may cause irreparable harm. I strongly believe that organizations should prioritize authentic connection across all levels. We need leaders who will directly address the company and explicitly support racial justice. Managers need to be empowered to have conversations with people of color in their teams and employees need to be equipped to be effective allies. 

For everyone out there looking for ways to become an ally:

  • Begin by having those difficult conversations around racism and discrimination in the workplace and in your everyday lives.
  • Practice allyship.
  • Speak up in your own social circles.
  • Own your privilege.
  • Bring diversity to the table.

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