February kicks off Black History Month. This is a starting point resource for employers to actively support and recognize Black History Month in the workplace.
Black History Month is celebrated the entire month of February and was created to focus attention on the contributions of African Americans to the United States. The month honors all Black people from every period in U.S. history, from the enslaved people first brought from Africa in the early 17th century to African Americans living in the United States today. Black History Month is also officially recognized by the U.S. government.
Use the quick navigation links below to jump ahead to a specific topic:
- The History of Black History Month
- Why Black History Month Is Important
- How Black History Month Is Traditionally Celebrated
- Employee Considerations
- How to Recognize Black History Month at Work
- TED Talks and Documentaries to Watch
- Books to Read
- Podcasts to Listen to
- Guest Speakers
- How Companies Are Celebrating
The History of Black History Month
You may still be wondering: What is Black History Month? What we know now as Black History Month actually began as “Negro History Week,” proposed by Carter G. Woodson in 1926. Woodson is known as the father of Black history since he lobbied schools to participate in a special program to encourage the study of Black history. February was chosen for the initial week-long celebration.
In 1976, President Gerald R. Ford officially recognized Black History Month and called upon the public to recognize the accomplishments of Black Americans and their contributions to society. In 1986, Congress passed a law that February would mark the beginning of the 60th annual public and private salute to Black history. The month offers people an opportunity to learn history, dig deeper, and find out more about Black leaders who sacrificed their livelihoods to provoke change and equality.
Why Black History Month Is Important
Recognizing and celebrating employees’ racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds can be effective in building psychological safety and employee engagement. Celebrating Black History Month in the workplace is an excellent way to achieve that goal. Black or African Americans make up roughly 60.5% of the U.S. labor force, according to the latest numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
How Black History Month Is Traditionally Celebrated
Each year, the President of the United States offers a proclamation highlighting February as Black History Month. The idea behind the proclamation serves as a reminder that Black history is also American history.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. is the only museum devoted exclusively to curating African American life, history, and culture. The museum was established by an Act of Congress in 2003 and opened to the public on September 24, 2016. As of April 2023, it has collected more than 40,000 artifacts and nearly 100,00 individuals have become members. It’s important to note, however, that across the country there are a number of Black history programs in individual companies, schools, and states.
Senior Executive DEI Think Tank is a criteria-based membership community for chief diversity officers and senior-level DEI leaders at large organizations to share difference-making tactics, trade valuable resources, and seek the counsel of experienced peers in a private, confidential setting.Do you qualify?
Black History Month Employee Considerations
During Black History Month, companies can shine a light on the contributions of African Americans to the workplace. It may be helpful to encourage employees of all races and ethnicities to discuss workplace experiences involving race and explain the culture’s role in their lives, or share stories about what Black History Month means to them. That said, it is more impactful to celebrate Black staff and culture all year. The month could be a launching pad for companies to make the most of pushing forward their DEI strategy and advances.
How to Recognize Black History Month at Work
Invite guest speakers. Use a full-service speakers bureau such as the National Speakers Bureau or the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) Speakers Bureau to book advocates and motivational speakers dedicated to Black History Month.
Host workshops. Bring in a professional to assist employees as they work to improve their communication skills when speaking about Black History Month.
Offer an online course for individual learning. Sign up for an online course for Black History Month such as “Black History is American History” offered by Electives.io.
Choose a TED Talk or documentary to discuss. Recommend it at the start of the month and hold a panel discussion toward the end of the month.
Here are a few TED Talks to consider:
- Okalani Dawkins’ “Black History is American History” (2020)
- Channing Gerard Joseph’s “How Black Queer Culture Shaped History” (2022)
- T. Morgan Dixon & Vanessa Garrison’s “The Most Powerful Woman You’ve Never Heard Of” (2018)
Here are a few documentaries to consider:
- “I Am Not Your Negro” (2017; available on YouTube)
- “John Lewis: Good Trouble” (2020; available on HBO Max)
- “Eyes on the Prize” (1987; available on PBS)
Support black-owned businesses. Leaders of companies can show they are committed to economic empowerment by investing in Black-owned businesses.
Donate for a cause. Companies can show they are committed to uplifting the Black community by giving to organizations that uplift the Black community, including Black Girls Code, the NAACP, and the Thurgood Marshall Fund.
Be a mentor. It’s important to remember in the workplace that mentors are vital to the pipeline of advancement within the company.
Organize diversity training programs. One of the best ways to educate your workforce about Black History Month is by organizing diversity training programs for employees of all races and ethnicities.
Partner with employee resource groups (ERGs). If you don’t have an ERG for your Black employees, consider starting one this month. Look to your peers in the industry for inspiration, such as Amazon’s BEN (Black Employee Network). If an ERG isn’t feasible, consider partnering with a local organization.
Organize an event. This could be a team or company-wide lunch, but prioritize making sure that all employees can interact in a safe space and everyone feels included.
Start a book club. There is a vast selection of books that recognize Black History Month. Choose a book at the start of the month so your team has time to finish it before a month-end discussion. We’ve mined the list of resources below from leading experts in Black History Month.
Books to Read for Black History Month
- “The Black Cabinet: The Untold Story of African Americans and Politics During the Age of Roosevelt,” by Jill Watts (2020)
- “Four Hundred Souls,” by Ibram X. Kendi (2021)
- “The 1619 Project,” by Nikole Hannah-Jones (2021)
Podcast for Black History Month
- The Black History Buff: A comprehensive journey through time that covers the full historical tapestry of the African diaspora. Heard in more than 100 countries, it’s been described as a show that links communities throughout the African diaspora.
- We The Black People: A look at the history of Black people in America. The podcast show is broadcast on the 15th and 30th of every month.
- Everyday Black History: An exploration of the highlights and contributions of Black men and women both past and present.
Guest Speakers for Black History Month
- Ta-Nehisi Coates is an award-winning author and journalist. Coates has a number of New York Times bestselling books and addresses audiences on urgent cultural topics.
- Dr. Eddie Glaude, Jr. is one of the nation’s most prominent scholars, authors, and political commentators. He delivers speeches to audiences on the complex dynamics of the American experience.
- Brit Bennett is the author of the coming-of-age novels “The Mothers” and “The Vanishing Half.” Her talks give audiences a window into themes such as race and systemic injustice.
- Martin Luther King III is the son of civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and offers audiences a rare and unique glimpse of growing up in the eye of the civil rights movement.
How Companies Are Celebrating Black History Month
The following companies host events all month long in February often by partnering with employee resource groups.
- General Electrics’ African American Forum offers a series of speakers and volunteer events.
- GoDaddy’s Black history campaign highlights small Black businesses like young entrepreneur Moziah Bridges, founder of Mo’s Bows.
- Adobe’s Black Employee Network celebrates the month by looking at Black life, love, and legacy. The group hosts events that reflect on each theme.
- Instacart’s Black History Month celebrations include hosting company-wide programming aimed at celebrating culture. Its ERG Nightshades host a series of programs and events across multiple cities.
- Squarespace hosts a series of programs that celebrate and amplify Black voices with stories that inspire and empower.
- NBCUniversal-Comcast’s “Discover Black Heritage” campaign features events for employees but also adds programming across all of NBC’s portfolio of brands.
- Paramount Global and its brands host a series of more than two dozen live-streamed events that included some of the biggest Black entertainers across its platforms.
Visit our DEI calendar for a complete list of holidays, events, and commemorations for DEI leaders to recognize throughout the year.