Guest Columnist

Our stories are the heart of Black History Month

LaSheila Yates at the Cedar Rapids Public Library in Cedar Rapids on Saturday, March 18, 2017. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Ga
LaSheila Yates at the Cedar Rapids Public Library in Cedar Rapids on Saturday, March 18, 2017. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

Around this time of the year, there’s usually a healthy debate among African-Americans about the societal relevance of Black History Month in this day and age. These conversations take place at community forums, on social media, and in the homes of people that seek to gain consensus on whether or not we should keep or scrap Black History Month. This debate rooted in the notion that black history is experienced everyday. I usually find myself on the side that believes we should continue to celebrate Black History Month. This is primarily due to my upbringing and the way I experience life.

My orientation to black history is rooted in the acknowledgment and admiration of African-Americans who have thrived in environments that were not built for the advancement of black people. It’s my belief that the social historical contributions of blacks in America have birthed several inventors, educators, political officials, physicians, attorneys, and other remarkable individuals that should continued to be honored. I also feel the same way about celebrating Disabilities in Employment Awareness Month in October, Pain Awareness Month in September, Women’s History Month in March, and Juneteenth in June. Similar to other celebratory months, Black History Month is a celebration of the culture, heritage, and contributions of African-Americans in our increasingly globalized world.

This Black History Month, I want to encourage others, especially our black youth, to carve out some time to listen to the stories of loved ones with an open heart. You never know what you’ll learn. For example, I learned that my aunt, Sharon Fisher Stevenson, is the first black social service analyst in Catahoula Parish Louisiana. She’s also a charter member of the Mu Eta Sigma chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho sorority, incorporated. I also reached out to friends in our community and learned that LaNisha Cassell is the first African-American to serve as the executive director of the African American Museum of Iowa. Her husband, Karl Cassell, is the first African-American to serve as the president of The Rotary Club of Cedar Rapids. In my immediate family, my husband is the first person to coach an all African and African-American male FIRST Tech Challenge team in Iowa.

One consistent theme heard over the years in listening to amazing stories of African-Americans is that being the “firsts” in any regard requires great deal fortitude, courage, discipline, patience, and mental toughness. If we take time this Black History Month, we might be surprised to learn that people we know and love have also made historical contributions African-American and Black culture.

LaSheila Yates, M.A., SHRM-CP, CPM, is president and founder of the Multicultural Small Business Institute. lasheilayates@gmail.com

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