The lessons of Black History Month.
Do you have a favorite version of the inspirational anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing”? There are some amazing renditions on YouTube; I love hearing the uniquely stirring interpretations by Aretha Franklin, Al Green, and Alicia Keys. Ray Charles’ is classic! And I recently discovered that the COVID-era version recorded by Stanford Talisman Alumni Virtual Choir especially speaks to me this year. The isolation forced by the pandemic means that, in this video, we see each singer’s face in isolation — but hear how each voice contributes in unique and invaluable ways. It’s an aural and visual metaphor for the incalculable might of collaborative effort.
It’s also a brilliant reminder that the operative word is this song is “every.” Unless every voice is lifted up and heard, we are all diminished. We are less than our potential. Over the last year, we have witnessed what happens when we fail to make every voice heard, or when we simply refuse to listen. As business leaders, as members of our communities, as human beings, we are all called to create a space in which every voice is heard and respected.
Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the American literary critic, historian, filmmaker, and Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University, said, “The first step toward tolerance is respect and the first step toward respect is knowledge.”
This year, Black History Month affords us an opportunity to learn more about a part of American history that we all must own. You won’t have to look far for recommendations, but a good place to start is with the ASALH (Association for the Study of African American Life and History) which has organized a rich selection of programs in its 2021 Black History Month Virtual Festival.
As a first step toward acting on my good intentions, I am beginning a program of self-education. I just kicked it off by sitting down for coffee with my wife and watching the renowned Ericka Huggins lecture on The Role of Spiritual Practice in Social Justice. Professor Huggins is a former Black Panther, political prisoner, human rights activist, educator, poet, and professor of Sociology and African American Studies at Merritt College in Oakland. She will shift your thinking with a heartbreaking message delivered with love and compassion. And now I’m inspired to flesh out the rest of my self-study syllabus. (If you have suggestions, please post them below or shoot me a message.)
I hope we all take this opportunity to lift our voices, open our ears, and join the effort to bring a new era of restorative justice to the history of Black persons in America.