Laura Barfield-Rodney is a management consultant, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion offering co-lead, and co-lead of Jabian’s African American Group (JAAG). We chatted with Laura to learn more about the importance and significance of Black History Month, how she will be celebrating, and how we can keep the conversation of equality going year-round.
Q: How will you be celebrating Black History Month?
A: Black History is an everyday thing for my family and always has been. While I was growing up, my family, school, and community made sure that the accomplishments of Black people throughout the diaspora were shared with us on an ongoing basis. We were never taught that slavery was “the beginning” or that the Civil Rights movement and integration were “the end.” With my own family, the celebration of our history and the recognition of the accomplishments of Black people is ongoing. From bedtime stories about Ronald McNair and Bass Reaves to museum trips and family visits, we talk about our history. We are immersed in food, music, art, and lived experiences that connect us to a larger community. We proudly live and breathe our culture every day, just like everyone else.
Q: What are ways we can celebrate Black history and accomplishments outside of Black History Month?
A: The best way to celebrate Black history is to start out by understanding that what we’ve learned is incomplete and remain open to both the history and perspectives of others. In my opinion, it’s critical that the history and accomplishments of all people become embedded into the American history curriculum. The erasure of Indigenous, Black, Latino, and Asian people from our history doesn’t just impact those communities–it gives us all a warped, incomplete view of history. I have hope that will change over time. However, thanks to the internet, we have a wealth of resources right at our fingertips. There are podcasts, exhibits, books, and comprehensive resource guides to help us tap into history. There are apps to help us celebrate Black history every day. There are also organizations that empower Black communities that are always in need of funding or volunteers.
We support Black businesses whenever we can from our accountant to our baker, so I am extremely proud of the impact and the way that Jabian has invested time, mentorship, resources, and seed money into small black businesses.
Q: What does Black History Month mean to you?
A: Black History Month is a beautiful, relevant part of our journey to define American culture. Black History Month comes from a place of pride, self-determination, and a refusal to be ignored. Every year it highlights history and culture for people that might not be exposed otherwise. So, to me, Black History Month is an opportunity. It’s the start of a conversation of the pieces that make up the culture and history of the United States (and now Canada and the UK too).
Q: How can others that are not of Black/African American ethnicity support and celebrate?
A: Again, I see Black History as American history and welcome everyone to treat it the same way as they treat jazz and hip-hop. I welcome everyone to enjoy it and take pride in accomplishments in the same way they enjoy street basketball. I encourage people to savor it as uniquely American, like potato chips.
Q: Do you have any role models who inspire you to celebrate Black History Month?
A: I have many. But the one that is top of mind today is my sister, Tara. She instilled great pride, respect, and love for our culture in me. She is the reason that I wear my hair naturally. She helped me to love history in general and to see the beauty and power in knowing where you come from. She made sure I had dolls that looked like me. She named her eldest daughter Amina after the 16th century Nigerian Warrior Queen and told me the story of this queen when I was only six years old.
Q: Why should we celebrate Black History month? What good comes out of rehashing past hurts and injustice?
A: History has sway and influence over how we frame things. It shapes what we see as normal. When we edit history or filter out pieces of a narrative that might be seen as too hurtful, divisive, or unimportant sometimes we eliminate context. Other times, we miss the message entirely and are doomed to repeat history. When I was growing up, as much as I treasure and value the education I got, I was taught that segregation in the US was over. I was taught that racism only ever took place in the South. That was in direct conflict with the reality I’d seen. I went to high school in Wellesley, MA and I was shocked to see Black and Latino children bussed from inner-city Boston via METCO, a school desegregation program. Boston schools are still segregated—in some ways more than it was in the 1960s—and METCO is still operating.
Black History Month is necessary to celebrate the triumphs and accomplishments of African Americans, but also to shine a light on how far we must go.
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