As we all know, February is Black History Month – a time to stop and reflect on the many accomplishments of pioneers who have come before us to promote equality, diversity, civility, and inclusion.
On the second week of February in 1926, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) sponsored national Negro History week. It wasn’t until the 1960s that this week turned into a month and gained traction of what we know today as Black History Month. It became official in 1976 when President Gerald R. Ford recognized it nationwide. Ford went on to say that Americans should “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
In that spirit, let’s talk about some important individuals of color throughout history that have helped make the world what it is today.
- Dr. Daniel Hale Williams was born in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania in 1856. After working as an apprentice under Dr. Henry Palmer at Chicago Medical College, Dr. Williams opened Provident Hospital and Training School for Nurses. His hospital was home to America’s first racially integrated staff. He went on to be the first physician to successfully perform open heart surgery.
- Percy Lavon Julian was born in Alabama in 1899. He went to school through grade eight but there were no high schools in his area that was open to people of color. Despite that, he went on to earn his Ph.D. His research led to the chemical synthesis of drugs to treat glaucoma and arthritis.
- Max Robinson was born on May 1, 1939 in Richmond, Virginia. He became the first black television anchor in Washington DC in 1969. He also went on to co-host ABC’s World News Tonight in 1978. Throughout his life, he fought for racial equality and fair representation of people of color.
- Christine Darden was born on September 10, 1942. You may recognize her name from the popular movie Hidden Figures. She was an aerospace engineer and mathematician for NASA starting in the 1970s. She worked on developing the sonic boom research program there and went on to ultimately become the director of Program Management at Langley Research Center’s Aerospace Performing Center.
As we all know, the work for diversity and inclusion in leadership is far from over. Even today, we have people of color breaking barriers and paving the way for a more accessible future.
- Kenneth I. Chenault was born Mineola, New York on June 2, 1951. After graduating from Harvard Law School, Chenault went on to work for American Express. His career at the company ultimately led to him becoming one of the first African Americans to run a Fortune 500 company.
- Ursula Burns was born on September 20, 1958 in New York City. Burns is the first Black woman to lead an S&P 500 company. In 2015 alone, she helped the company generate over 18 billion dollars in revenue.
Creating a space for diversity and inclusion isn’t always easy. However, as we can see from the experiences of the amazing and inspiring people above, it isn’t impossible. All of us play a role in seeding the next generation of diverse leaders.