I am ashamed to say that the 2016 CES conference was the first time that I – a 57-year-old black woman – had ever heard of Katherine Johnson. Or Dorothy Vaughan or Mary Jackson. I had not heard of them because history has been taught through a white European lens. The world now knows about these women because of the movie Hidden Figures. If you haven't watched the movie, I encourage you to put it at the top of your list to watch soon. It reveals the power of beautiful, smart, tenacious and giving black women.
This movie has brought to the forefront the reality that there are many black men and women who have never been credited for their contributions.
As I reflected on the fact that I did not know these women, it made me wonder how many other contributions have been made by African Americans that have gone unnoticed. And it prompted me to start thinking about the contributions members of my own family made.
I was saddened by a reality that maybe I don’t know my history. Maybe we as African Americans haven't found our full voice yet because we don't know. We don't know how many great contributions, inventions, discoveries or innovations our own people have made. And not just contributions to the United States but contributions to the world.
So for black history month this year, I've challenged myself to do my own homework. Not the homework someone tells me. I will no longer partake as a member of the neutral silent majority that believes whatever is said about the contributions of blacks as fact. I am challenging myself to become more curious. And I ask you to join me in the journey of discovery. And I humbly appeal to you to share your discoveries with your children and loved ones.
Talk to your aging love ones if they are still living. Dig deep and touch the truth. I believe that what you will find, as I have found, is that we are from a culture of hard working, resilient, tenacious and God-fearing people. We are better at adapting to change than most cultures on the face of the earth. You will also find innovators. Our forefathers were people who, by necessity, had to invent but were never given credit.
People like my father, Mr. Clovis Reid.
I can remember as a kid my dad mixing his own cooking spices in a big jar. This was long before Emeril Lagasse, long before Chef Paul Prudhomme and long before Lawry's. My father had a passion for cooking…there was so much love in his meals. He just didn't have access and financial backing. But, for me, that doesn't discount his innovations. The fact that his name is not on a spice doesn't make me think less of him, it actually makes me realize that innovation runs through my veins.
My father used to stand at the kitchen window and stare out while slowly sipping his coffee. He was a thinker. He was a problem solver. And he taught his children to problem solve.
For sure I didn't have the benefit that so many members of the dominant group who had fathers who were CEOs, doctors, or lawyers to guide me through a review of the business landscape or help me understand world economics. But I had a father who contributed to society in a meaningful way. And for that I am grateful.
My father was indeed a role model.
Whether it’s your father or mother or grandparents or great grandparents, you have role models, too. They are black role models. They are great role models. But we have to dig to get to know our history.
I wonder what discoveries you will make as you become curious and ask more questions? I hope that you, like me, will become prouder, louder and more confident of the contributions that our forefathers made.
You see there are more than four people to celebrate each black history month. There are more great black contributors beyond Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Thurgood Marshall or the one or two others that get recognized every black history month. Which, by the way, is still the shortest month of the year.
There are tons and tons of people to celebrate. We just don't know them yet. So congrats to Hidden Figures for recognizing the contributions of the unsung. Think about the people who inspired the works of the names that we traditionally recognize. Think about those who were not recognized. Think about our own hidden figures.
Congrats to those of you who know who you are and what you are made of because of your history. And for those of you who might not have yet discovered the goal – dig. Dig deep. And make sure that history records the voices of the many that were problem solvers, musicians, artists, chemist, doctors, lawyers, politicians, business people and so on.
Let’s celebrate as we get to know our history. Let’s not wait for someone else to tell the world about the many contributions of our people. Let us speak with pride and joy about who we are and what we bring to the table.
Happy Black History Month! Let’s celebrate our history with pride!