BLACK HISTORY MONTH 2021
Honoring our Past, Present, and Future
Throughout the month of February, LeaderKeys will highlight Black contributions in politics, arts, education and more. Check back daily for a new highlight and link to more information.
CORETTA SCOTT KING
Coretta Scott King was an American civil rights activist and the wife of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
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JAMES WELDON JOHNSON
Johnson established his reputation as a writer, and was known during the Harlem Renaissance for his poems, novels, and anthologies collecting both poems and spirituals of black culture. He wrote the lyrics to the Black National Anthem, later put to music by his brother.
YOUNG, GIFTED, AND BLACK
This book dives into the topic of education and success in Black America, crushing stereotypes and promoting a clear picture of the foundation for black excellence.
For all the black educators out there, THANK YOU - the power of representation in education, both in the classroom and in administration, is inspiring.
Extreme Musical Talent
Ralph Peterson is a renaissance man - he plays multiple instruments, teaches, inspires, motivates, and is an all-around amazing person who can do almost anything! Carrying on the Art Blakey legacy is a heavy burden - but he rose to the occasion when tapped as a younger musician. Today, he helps to create the future of music, including my son, Alonzo Demetrius, his second label artist to release his own album. When I hear Alonzo on the phone with him it is surreal, it's like hearing a legend, somehow in my own home. Hope you learn more about him and his music if you don't already know...now you do!
Before watching Judas and the Black Messiah on Netflix (released 2/12/21), take a moment to get fully educated on this story before watching the dramatized version. Most reviews comment that it is mostly accurate with some story enhancing liberties, so I went on a search to find the best fact-based recount of who and what the movie covers. The History channel did a great job of it including the latest - read to the very last sentence that will blow your mind!
First African-American All Around US Gymnastics Champion
Growing up, my mom supported and nurtured our talents and passions - my sister and I both competed and performed gymnastics at the junior level. We loved it so much my father built us our own homemade beam made out of wood, foam and carpet so we could practice at home! But the only reason we knew we could be successful was because of Dianne Durham. She was my first experience with the concept of #representationmatters, and although that wasn't a coined term at the time, the essence of it was extremely motivating.
There were so very few little black girls in gymnastics, most of the time my sister and I were the only one or two in the gym - so that came with experiences of racism and sometimes even segregation. So seeing someone highly successful that looked like me was EVERYTHING! I am still processing this, but I think I mostly just want to say THANK YOU Dianne, may you rest in power...
OCTAVIA E. BUTLER
Science Fiction First
I am a #BWN (Black Woman Nerd) and my favorite genre, by far, is science fiction! This author introduced me to such an interesting world that I did not know any black person was exploring - prior to her I dove into Ray Bradbury devouring his stories and feeding my imagination. Octavia Butler writes at an intersection of African American history, science fiction, and dystopian fantasy. I implore you to check out her work that is gaining recognition posthumously, and if I had to recommend a place to start, I would say to start with the Patternist series.
The Beauty of Dance
As a professional in my adult life I have a clear sense of focus and purpose that drives me - as an adolescent that was developed through gymnastics (as mentioned previously) and dance. I remember seeing Revelations, an Alvin Ailey production, on TV when I was about 12 and I moved to my core - black dancers, African sounds, storytelling, connection...so much sensory overload but in the best way possible! When I moved to New Jersey, I could not wait to eventually get to a live Ailey production and when I did, it was everything and more. The dancers are gifted, the choreography inspired, the messages poignant. If you are a lover of the arts and have note experienced an Alvin Ailey production recorded or live, do yourself a favor and explore the site. Visit the about page to learn about Alvin Ailey. I truly believe that the dance arts teach us so much of the emotional intelligence we need to be successful in our careers through meaningful, thoughtful connections to each other.
CONSTANCE BAKER MOTLEY
From Courts to Senate
Reflecting on the turmoil of 2020 that spilled right into 2021, politics was such a huge driver of conversation, debate, and most notably, divide. For that reason, I think a pause to remember how politics can also be a method of powerful change is overdue. Constance B. Motley has an entire list of "firsts" that I believe shaped her most important legacy of being a mentor to so many others. This is how you blaze a trail, layout a roadmap, and act as a guide.
Daymond John motivates entrepreneurs and you know it is coming from the best place possible. He doesn't just like success for himself, he thrives on success for others.
John is CEO and Founder of FUBU, a much-celebrated global lifestyle brand, and a pioneer in the fashion industry with over $6 billion in product sales. He is an award-winning entrepreneur, and he has received over 35 awards.
Fighting For Our Rights
Sojourner Truth was an American abolitionist and women's rights activist. Truth was born into slavery in Swartekill, New York, but escaped with her infant daughter to freedom in 1826. After going to court to recover her son in 1828, she became the first black woman to win such a case against a white man.
So much to cover with Angela Davis - powerful is the first word that comes to mind when I think of her, but I feel like there are enough words I can come up with to accurately express how much I admire her wisdom and unending work. Please take the time to read her bio, this is Black History still happening...
Another Extraordinary #hiddenfigure
Gladys West is known in the STEM community for her contributions to the mathematical modeling of the shape of the Earth, and her work on the development of the satellite geodesy models that were eventually incorporated into the Global Positioning System (GPS).
VICTOR HUGO GREEN
The Green Book Legacy
I grew up a military [Navy] brat. The earliest part of my life I lived in Connecticut and Virginia. I briefly tell this part of my life because I have experienced a lot of passive racism in ways no child should ever experience, especially in the 80s during my childhood, but it was a reality living and traveling in places holding on to old traditions and beliefs. So I cannot imagine the magnitude of what that felt like to travel across the US, particularly through the south, during times of explicit racism. A few years back the movie Green Book became a critically acclaimed film with brilliant acting and writing. However, it did not tell much of the actual Green Book and its origin, directly. Take a moment to learn more about this important piece of not-to-distant history.
ZORA NEALE HURSTON
Zora Neale Hurston is best known as the author of such classics as His Eyes Were Watching God and Moses, Man of the Mountain. Her life was complicated but storied in itself and she wrote through her experiences. I did feel it worthy to mention the first work that I came aware of of hers - the story of Oluale Kossola (renamed Cudjo Lewis), one of the survivors of the last slave ship to reach the continental United States in 1860, one year before the beginning of the Civil War. Although slave trade had been outlawed for 50 years by that time, slave traders found ways to circumvent the law for their free labor. Hurston covers this story with great care and it is amazing to read the words and his experience.
Black Woman in the White House
I think the best way to describe what Shirley Chisholm accomplished is with her own words about her remarkable ambition for the highest office in the nation:
"The next time a woman of whatever color, or a dark-skinned person of whatever sex aspires to be president, the way should be a little smoother because I helped pave it.”
Indeed she did. Hope you enjoy this lesson in determination, continuous growth, and resilience.
More Than The Bus
I recently had a conversation with a former colleague of mine who commented that slavery and the Civil Rights movement were "ancient" history and that we should move on. Not a new comment, in fact, I see people say similar things across social media. What is interesting is how easy it is to detach from these issues if you are not directly impacted by them. I won't go into the details of the entire conversation but I basically made a case for why it is NOT ancient and that a Civil Rights Act for 2021 would be long overdue to address equality for all dimensions in this time and for our future.
So today's highlight is of Rosa Parks - someone we all know and have heard much about. However, I wanted to share this article that highlights some things you may not know about her. More importantly, I wanted to remind us that this history is not so long ago, that these activist were truly in the prime of their lives when they started their journeys, and that the blowback of many of the issues then is still impacting people of color today. We have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.
Association for the Study of African American Life and History
I often turn to the ASALH for resources, events, and discussions both for Black History Month and throughout the year. Many times I am asked where to go to learn more, this is a great place to start. For 95 years the organization has picked a focus area via a theme for the year.
For 2021, it is THE BLACK FAMILY: Representation, Identity, and Diversity. I hope you take a moment for yourself and your organization to explore this resource and join in some of the upcoming virtual festival events.
MARK E. DEAN
Representation in IT
Weird fact about me, I hold a certificate in Electronic Engineering that I earned way back when during high school. I attended a two-year program, during my junior and senior year, that was very rigorous - the class started with 40 students but only 8 of us graduated from the program. I don't have a career anywhere near that, but if you have worked with me before then this makes since because you know I love all things technology! I wanted to highlight an IT juggernaut because #representationmatters and he inspired me directly during that time.
So, take a look at your computer screen, your capability to print to a printer, marvel at memory capability...he has been instrumental in developing so much that literally enable us to work. Be sure to learn more about Mark E. Dean.
Andre O’Neal Harrell was an American music executive and multimedia producer. In 1986, recently a rapper, he formed Uptown Records, which became a leader in hip hop, R&B, and their fusion, "new jack swing." He gave Sean "Diddy" Combs his 1990 start in the business, and later was CEO of Motown Records.
Tapping to Tell Stories
Gregory Oliver Hines was an American dancer, actor, choreographer and singer. He is one of the most celebrated tap dancers of all time. Hines starred in more than forty films and also made his mark on Broadway during his lifetime.
The Voice of the Century
At one point in my childhood my family returned to California after living on the east coast a few years - we lived in Compton, California on 130th street near Willowbrook Ave - and I give that detail because we lived right in front of Marian Anderson Elementary School. I had no idea who she was so I looked her up in an encyclopedia (yup, no internet at that time) and was mesmerized by what I read.
I watched a PBS special about her and learned even more than I already knew. Be sure to take the time to learn about this extraordinary talent at a very pivotal time in American AND world history.