To celebrate Black History Month in 2021, Rochester Regional Health’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Office created myriad educational resources, employee spotlights, interactive trivia and a virtual celebration to honor Black legacy throughout February and beyond, reflecting on this year’s national theme, “The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity.”
Black History Month began with the inception of Negro History Week in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson, an American historian, author, journalist, and founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. Woodson, known as the “Father of Black History,” created the event to promote the scientific study of Black life and history and to popularize the findings. He chose February because of its attention to tradition and reform, and its inclusion of the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.
Over the years, response to Negro History Week grew and Woodson believed Black history was too important to America and the world to be crammed into a week. By the 1970s, Negro History Week transformed into Black History Month.
This year, during the second week of February, Rochester Regional Health took a deeper look at Black family representation, identity, and diversity on the big and little screens through an interactive trivia contest available to all staff.
African American families have often been revered, reviled, and remembered through their portrayal in Hollywood movies and television shows. Some of these portrayals show us the differences, similarities, struggles, triumphs, and sheer perseverance of Black families. These families have helped shape the American landscape, and were shaped by it through different family units, structures, values, and experiences.
We also shared employee spotlights and concluded our Black History Month celebrations with a system-wide virtual event introduced by our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Office Director Ebony Caldwell, who shared poignant memories from her own Black family and, in particular, her mother, who was a registered nurse and the anchor of her family. Caldwell also emphasized how diversity is a primary cornerstone of healthcare.
Deborah Stamps, Executive Vice President, Chief Nursing Education and Diversity Officer at Rochester Regional, spoke about her grandmother’s impact on her life and then introduced keynote speaker Dr. Arlette Miller Smith, a retired professor, administrator and founding dean of the Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs at St. John Fisher College, and who continues to be an active local champion of diversity awareness. She is also the founder and artistic director of AKOMA, the Rochester African American Women’s Choir.
Miller Smith gave an impassioned message on the Black family, beginning with her own childhood in Vicksburg, Mississippi. She explored how we define family as a concept, and how that definition shapes people as they grow and become citizens of communities. (MIller Smith herself was legally adopted and raised by her maternal grandparents.) She inspires throughout her message, questioning the quantity of research spent on Black health concerns, and presents a challenge for the healthcare community to give a voice, expertise and community for the Black family.
The virtual event concluded with lively entertainment from Womba Africa Drumming and Dance, a local troupe originally from Ghana, Africa, which has been featured on “America’s Got Talent.”
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