What Black History Month Means to Members of Cisco’s Connected Black Professionals

By Scott McGregor
Mar 6, 2023 12:07 PM ET
On the left a drawn hand holding a microphone with red yellow and green rays coming from it. "From a single voice to a chorus of change" Black history month.

Black History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing their central role in U.S. history. Also known as African American History Month, the event grew out of “Negro History Week,” the brainchild of noted historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans. Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month. Other countries around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom, also devote a month to celebrating Black history.

To me, it is a time of reflection, celebration, and honor for those that have gone before us and about the lessons we can learn from them. It sometimes is said that the shortest month of the year was set aside for Black History Month, and thus is yet another insult toward our community and its achievements. For me, Black History is American history, and it is impossible to tell America’s history without a truthful exposition of Black people. So, for me, I celebrate Black History every day.

What is Connected Black Professionals (CBP)?

Cisco’s Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are known internally as Inclusive Communities and Connected Black Professionals (CBP) is an organization for Cisco employees that support the Black community inside and outside of Cisco. They help drive a sense of community and belonging for Black Cisconians and their allies and champion initiatives to ensure that the community is able to reap all of the benefits working at a global company like Cisco. The ERO has a global reach and seeks to be a reflection of the Black experience the world over.

What does Black History Month mean to other Ciscoians?

I’m proud to be a member of the CBP community and spotlight some of the exceptional Black Cisconians who exemplify our commitment to social justice. Here are some of my colleagues and their thoughts on Black History Month:

Shaunya Ishmael, Program Manager, Social Justice Action on HBCUs

“I view Black History Month as a time of reflection and celebration. It is a time to reflect on our history, our struggles, and our accomplishments. It is a time to reflect on what we have endured as African Americans and on the triumphs that have arisen from those struggles. It is a time to celebrate our accomplishments and to remember the giants on whose shoulders we stand. It is a time to celebrate our culture, our resiliency, and our ability to thrive though adversity.

I also view Black History Month as a call to action. It is a call to action to pass our stories down to our younger generation, so they understand the richness of our history. It is a call to action to push until the telling of our story is not contained to a month but is part of the everyday retelling of American history. It is a call to action to continue to push forward until the day that our history is retold honestly and without editing or embellishment. It is a call to action to reach back into the community and pay forward the blessings we have received so that our community continues to thrive.”

Donyea Perry, Virtual Demand Center, Collaboration

“What does Black History Month mean to you? Being posed this simple question instantly transported me back to sitting in my living room as a child, an earshot away from “grown folk conversation”. It was in those conversations that I was first introduced to pioneers such as, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Rebecca M. Johnson, and many other great Black leaders/activist. I remember hearing my mom, uncles and aunts in great debates discussing what I would call, Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness for Black people. They would passionately discuss governmental systems, systemic oppression, educational blockers, job displacement and many other issues that plague the Black community in America. As the discussions continued, inevitably someone would shout, ‘What we need to do is…’

This phrase would immediately cause a shift in the room. The discussion would transition from stating problems to asking the question, what can we do about it? With every solution proposed the volume in the room would rise, as if the escalation of their voices could change governments and create opportunities. The tape recorder would be pulled out so every suggestion offered could be played back and used as a reference point as my uncle had his notepad and pen mapping out program ideas and identifying key contacts. As the discussion got deeper, my family would seek a different perspective, often calling in someone from the younger generation. Even as a small child my family taught me every perspective needs to be heard and all who ask for it should listen with the intent to understanding.

It was here, where I began developing my idea of what Black History Month means to me. It means the representation of past, present, and future. Black History Month is a moment for remembering and celebrating but also a time for reflecting, strategizing, and mobilizing. For this month is as much about the future as it is about the past.

Advancement is an ever-flowing river; empowering those who are strong enough to withstand the current. As a people we have never stood on the shore resting on our laurels. We push boundaries and fight for our future generations. During Black History Month I look to my family, co-workers and to myself to utilize our combined strengths and to take up the responsibility to learn, to educate, and to find solutions concerning equality for our people.”

Andrea Parker, Marketing Specialist

“What Does Black History Month Mean to Me?

At times, Black people are viewed as a spectacle; an amazement that is usually emphasized when profit or credibility is involved or, when mutual interests align with those who may have found us unfavorable, initially. However, Black History Month is a moment in the year where my culture is highlighted for the amazement it truly is. Stolen realities are uncovered and, if it’s paying attention, the world gets an opportunity to learn about pure, unadulterated, Black beauty and excellence.

As a child, my school system would highlight the same figures every year during Black History Month. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Madame C.J. Walker and the like. With no intentions to diminish these astonishing men and women nor their accomplishments and contributions to the culture, my school system provided limited exposure to the true meaning of Black History Month.

Since becoming an adult, I have learned to appreciate Black History Month beyond the cosmetic appearance the world offers. From music appreciation, film and literature, the importance of the Black dollar and financial literacy, Black History Month enriches my soul as I continue to learn more and appreciate those who have made a way for me to be the best version of black that I can possibly be. We are Black every day and feel the effects, daily, whether positive or negative. I only hope that someone out there, who doesn’t know what it’s like to be me, uses the month of February to further educate themselves in my culture and learn to appreciate our blackness as constantly as I do.”

How to become an ally to the Black community 

In the U.S. the Black population is growing, with 46.8 million people who self-identify as Black. Despite representing about 14% of the U.S. population, prejudice and racism are still an ongoing problem. According to Reuters, “Inequality between white and Black Americans persists in almost every aspect of society and the economy” and systemic racism is impacting Black individuals’ education, income, health and even lifespans.

Allyship leads to real change for friends, family, and colleagues who are part of the Black community. Please consider taking action and speaking up. Here are three ways to begin:

  1. Look for literature, podcasts, or documentaries that share the history and lived experiences of Black individuals and communities.
  2. Research organizations that support the advancement of equity and inclusion for Black communities and consider donating or volunteering with them.
  3. Don’t just show your support during Black History Month. Listen to, celebrate, and uplift voices from Black individuals and communities all year.

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