February is marked as Black History Month in the United States and serves as a way to recognize the many contributions of black Americans to the country’s rich history. Originally, Black History Month was celebrated for a week (Negro History Week) during the month of February. In 1926, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, a Harvard educated son of former slaves, and his organization, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, pioneered the weekly celebration.
After nearly 50 years of celebrations, President Ford decided to extend the weekly celebration to what is now called Black History Month. He believed the action would encourage society to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout history.”
Will Drewery (OF), Co-President of the African American Student Union (AASU) at HBS, and his wife Ashley Drewery said, “Black History Month is a special time to reflect on all of the contributions that members of the black community have made to American history, society, and culture. It’s a time to look back – to reflect, acknowledge, and celebrate the accomplishments and drive of those that came before us. It is also a time to give back, grow, and reconnect.”
Lauren Booker (OC), also Co-President of AASU believes that it is important to recognize Black History Month. “I think black history is significant because, in many ways, it is fundamental to understanding American and world history. Black Americans were critical in laying the foundation of this nation over the past few centuries. It’s a history that needs to be told and imperative if attempting to truly understand the fabric of the United States.”
When recognizing the accomplishments of black Americans, many often think of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks. However, there are many lesser known individuals who have equally contributed to America’s history.
“Black history is much deeper than highlighting and memorializing certain leaders across time,” says Booker. “Today, there is a perception that many challenges the black community has faced historically are no longer apparent. The fact that Barack Obama is the first black president shows that the black American has come a long way from being classified as 3/5ths of a person during the days of slavery. However, there are still a host of complex obstacles in the black community that need to be discussed and ultimately resolved. Black History Month is a great platform to have an open dialogue about those issues.”
It is important to note that there is no single “black” experience in the United States. Many see Black History Month as a way to celebrate the diversity of experiences within the race.
“The beauty of black history is that it’s dynamic,” says Booker. “What it means to be black in the United States is not one thing. Fortunately in this country we benefit from having a diasporic black community that includes not only African Americans, but also those from African, West Indian, and Latin American countries, as well as other parts of the world. It’s a history that continues to evolve and should be embraced.”
While at HBS, many black students find themselves as members of AASU. While the organization is inclusive of all races and cultures, it exists as a platform to support black students that matriculate through the MBA program.
“AASU serves as an outlet for students interested in fostering an inclusive community for students interested in African American affairs. Throughout the academic year AASU provides academic and career support and hosts several social and enrichment events, “ Will Drewery says.
This year is a historic year for AASU as the organization celebrates the 40th Annual H. Naylor Fitzhugh Conference on the weekend of March 23rd-24th, named in honor of Fitzhugh (MBA 1933) who was one of the first African-Americans to graduate from HBS.
Drewery notes, “The conference aims to introduce and reconnect African American alumni, business leaders and students around issues impacting black professionals and the community at-large. This year will serve as a celebration of those who helped to pave the way for those of us here today, and provide tools to empower the future advancement of the community.”
The contributions of black Americans have paved the way for not only black Americans, but for all Americans.
“Black History Month is meant to serve as a way for people to come together and celebrate the contributions of individuals that have help create the America we all know and enjoy today,” Drewery says. “Black History is World History.”