Marking Black History Month
As well as honoring the achievements of African-American endeavors in shaping our country, Black History Month should serve as a reminder of the importance of recognizing diversity, celebrating achievement and providing inspiration for all - each and every day, and month, of the year.
In honor of Black History Month, we are featuring some of our most influential African-American employees. Monti Becker-Kelly is Head of Business Development for Sitel Group specializing in innovation in the banking and financial services sector.
As well as honoring the achievements of African-American endeavors in shaping our country, Black History Month should serve as a reminder of the importance of recognizing diversity, celebrating achievement and providing inspiration for all – each and every day, and month, of the year.
The last time I traveled to an important client meeting near Sitel’s Parisian offices, my train passed through the newly opened Rosa Parks station. In Paris, when metro and train stations are named for a person, it’s because that person was a catalyst. He or she created momentum and brought about a positive change in society that is still felt today.
It also means that Rosa Parks’ contribution to modern life is considered just as important as the contributions of philosophers, scientists, world leaders and revolutionaries. Just as she can lay claim to being the first woman ever to lie in honor in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol; because of that train station, she is celebrated alongside the likes of Alexander Dumas, Victor Hugo, Charles De Gaulle, Louis Pasteur, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Pablo Picasso, Marie Curie and John F. Kennedy.
Black History Month
My mind is drawn to Parks, her struggles, her tenacity and her outright refusal to give in each February. As well as being the month of her birth, it’s Black History Month as anyone who has passed through the U.S. school system since 1976 will no doubt know.
When I was a child, Black History Month was a revelation – my family celebrated it like a birthday. The uplifting stories my parents shared and the inspirational things my mother –Stanli K. Becker – had done – she was a protestor, activist and the founder of the Jesse Owens Youth Development Program, recognized at the White House with the famous athlete and his family – echoed around my classroom as loudly as they’d reverberated around our dining table. No matter how much you love, respect and admire your parents, you often question what they have to say because they’re biased. But to hear a teacher, who has no vested interest in your future other than that you don’t fail the class discussing how Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman and of course Rosa Parks were ordinary people who did extraordinary things, truly does reinforce the idea that we live in a meritocracy. Anything is possible and we just have to be ready to commit ourselves to making the idea or the dream a reality. If that’s not sufficient motivation, I made sure my daughter’s initials are MLK – try living with that.
Still, Black History Month should be the beginning, not the end. Despite all she achieved, my mother passed away in 1993, aged just 50. If she were still alive today, she would be happy that so many African-American icons are getting annual recognition. But, just like me, I know she’d be questioning the logic of confining such recognition to a single calendar month.
I’m not for one moment suggesting that Black History Month is not a fitting tribute to the legacies of amazing people such as Rosa Parks or Dr. King, nor a timely reminder that no matter what our ancestry, we are all Americans. We can all accomplish great things and as such we all have more things in common than set us apart.
Every month is history month
However, we should feel this way every month of the year. Black History is American History – therefore it’s everybody’s history and we should be learning more about it every day. As well as being recognized as activists and protestors, my family is also known for writing a book that was adopted into the school system as required reading at the time – All Blood is Red; All Shadows Are Dark! – in which we make this point. We’re all in this together and progress comes from embracing diversity.
And this diversity starts in the past. History lessons should be as integrated and diverse as the classrooms where our children are taught, the communities in which we live and the offices in which we work. If we don’t understand our complete history, and learn every lesson that it offers, we risk making the same mistakes in the future.
Likewise, if we continue confining Black History to a specific month of the year, we will continue to overlook the achievements of other prominent black people in the fields of science, politics, law, sports and the arts.
Don’t ignore achievements that make a difference
For instance, what about Dr. Shirley Jackson? I can put my hand on my heart and say for sure that I wouldn’t be where I am and I wouldn’t be writing this today if it weren’t for her.
Just as my own mother was the first black student in West Virginia admitted into the National Honor Society chapter and the first black female to earn her master’s degree from John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio, Dr. Shirley Jackson was the first African-American woman to earn a doctorate in nuclear physics at MIT.
Like my mother, once she’d fought for academic recognition, she pushed on. Dr. Jackson’s work in theoretical physics has revolutionized the telecommunications space. She has given us the touch-tone phone, fiber-optic cable, caller ID and call waiting.
Without those breakthroughs, Sitel Group wouldn’t have the technological foundation on which to build its current business model. I am proud to celebrate Black History Month in Sitel, a great company that promotes working together and having your own voice. I know from direct experience that for an idea to take hold, become innovative and eventually change a way of doing something, it needs to be recognized as such. That’s only possible when a total meritocracy exists, where everyone is empowered to think literally and laterally, where everyone’s voice is heard at equal volume and all successess are celebrated and honored evenly and equally.
So we’re proud to recognize and to wholeheartedly celebrate Black History Month, but we are also conscious that recognition and celebration of achievements and actively showing appreciation of difference and diversity should be a daily occurrence, like passing through a train station on the way to the office bearing the name of one of the most remarkable women in recent U.S. history.