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How to mindfully celebrate Black History Month

Black History Month, as the name suggests, is a celebration of Black history and culture that runs through the month of October in the UK. Honouring both the struggles and achievements of the Black community is essential, and doing so can help highlight people and events that are often overlooked by a white-washed account of history.

While this celebration of Black people and culture is something that should be happening all the time, it’s of course important to acknowledge Black History Month in your workplace. It can be an opportunity to reflect on the racism Black people experience, and ensure that the Black people in your office feel that they’re working in an inclusive and open environment that’s a safe space for them.

Read on for more information on Black History Month, and things you can do now and beyond October to acknowledge the Black experience.

Why Black History Month is so important

Simply put, Black History Month is a month-long celebration of African and Caribbean culture. Launched in 1987 in the UK, it was meant to challenge racism in local communities and offer education about Black people’s history in the UK that might have been missing from a typical school education.

Especially now, with history-defining Black Lives Matter protests against systemic racism and police brutality happening around the world, Black History Month is more important than ever. In the workplace, where Black people face both conscious and unconscious racism, it’s important to be actively evaluating your diversity policies. Celebrating Black History Month is an excellent occasion to do just that.

Help educate your employees

Creating a bank of resources including articles, films and books for your employees is a great place to start. BlackHistoryMonth.org.uk has a really thorough collection of reading suggestions. You could even encourage employees to break off into small, book-club style groups to discuss what they’ve learned. Then, consider bringing in Black thought leaders, historians or activists to speak to your organisation about their lived experiences, or host a workshop on diversity in the workplace. Even though we can’t all be in the same room right now, these kinds of things can be just as engaging over Zoom. Make them extra engaging with Q&As and polls.

An important thing to remember here is to not expect the Black people in your office to lead these research efforts or discussions. Everyone should be involved in the process, but don’t assume that someone might want to be involved just because of their ethnic background. This could place the burden of responsibility on that person, something that could result in a lot of emotional labour and make them feel tokenised. This article is a great resource for people who are struggling with those kinds of situations.

Create space for sharing experiences

People should always feel that they can be open and honest about their personal experiences, but Black History Month could be a great opportunity to give the Black people in your office space to share their experiences. At Avado, we are inviting employees to submit recipes inspired by their own Black culture, and you could do something similar. You could have a chat group dedicated to these kinds of discussions, as well.

Going forward, consider creating a shared cultural calendar that could help people from different backgrounds within your organisation keep track of what significant days (or months) their colleagues might be celebrating. This will also help give those celebrations their due visibility both internally and externally, providing a reminder for acknowledgement in newsletters and internal employee communications.

Support Black-owned businesses

Whether you’re ordering something small like flowers for a colleague, or you’re planning a small gathering to celebrate Black History Month, consider looking to a Black-owned florist or restaurant. Look for a Black-owned book shop if you’re ordering books for the aforementioned book club, too. If you’re outsourcing any of your organisation’s work, either to a freelancer or another organisation, take on a Black freelancer or choose to work with a company that has Black people on its leadership team.

Donate to anti-racism charities

Volunteering can be an amazing team bonding activity, and a great way to celebrate Black History Month. Right now, it’s difficult to venture out as a group and volunteer time, but there are lots of UK-based charities fighting racism that need financial support. Organise a donation day to support causes like Black Lives Matter UK, mental health charity Black Minds Matter, gender-related violence support centre Southall Black Sisters, or youth charity The Reach Out Project. If you’re able to match employee donations or form a corporate partnership with those charities, even better

Reflect on larger, organisational-wide changes

As we’ve mentioned above, Black History Month is a great time to think about diversity in the workplace, but that thinking should definitely not be limited to October. Always be mindful of the kind of support each individual person within your organisation needs. Listen to the Black people in your organisation, both when it comes to celebrating Black History Month and throughout the rest of the year. When an employee reports a case or racism or bullying, take it seriously and don’t make excuses. Managers should know how to recognise signs of this behaviour, and have the anti-racism training to tackle it.

Mark Black History Month by thinking about the current state of your organisation’s diversity and inclusion policies. If you don’t already have one, implement a diversity and inclusion committee. Work on regular employee recognition, too, and think about diversity when you are choosing the person who delivers that recognition. This kind of peer-to-peer interaction can help increase employees’ sense of belonging, which has been shown to increase motivation and pride in a workplace.

A diverse workplace is one that makes better decisions, benefits from a broader range of perspectives, and fosters much more innovation. Thinking about diversity in October and through the entire year will make both your organisation and the people who are integral to it thrive.

Is your workplace planning something for Black History Month? Share those plans with us on LinkedIn!

Tara MacInnis

Posted September 29, 2020