Guest Author - Nikesha Mayfield, Supervisor, HR Support Center
When I was in elementary school, I was the only Black student in the classroom. I thought it was normal and never felt out of place. However, when my family eventually moved to a different school district while I was in middle school, that feeling quickly changed. In sixth grade, I participated in a Black History play, and played the role of Althea Gibson, the first Black athlete to win a Grand Slam title, who I had never heard of before.
Looking back, this was the first moment I ever felt out of place, because I realized that up until that moment I had never learned anything about Black History Month in my predominately white classrooms. In that one play, I learned more about my culture and the people who paved a way for me than I had during my first six years of school.
I wanted to share this experience because Black History Month has always been an important opportunity for me to learn about and celebrate people who looked like me. It also has taught me about integrity, leadership and that I can reach any goal I set my mind to, regardless of what I look like.
While I’m pretty sure everyone has been taught about the movements and influences of extraordinary Black leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Malcom X, Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman, there are also many other important Black figures in history that we all can thank for their impact on our world. For example, we must thank Alice H. Parker for her central heating furnace design, Frederick McKinley Jones for developing the automatic refrigeration equipment used in long-haul trucks which gets our food to grocery stores and Garret Morgan for his gas mask or stop light which saved countless lives. The more you research the contributions of African Americans, the more you can appreciate that this isn’t just Black History—it’s an essential piece of American History.
At H&P, we are a company made up of thousands of people, and we all bring our individual professional and personal journeys with us to work every day. Diversity, equity and inclusion to me means understanding and respecting one another’s cultures and backgrounds so we can work together and achieve success. I appreciate that my H&P family not only allows me to share my unique perspective—but also encourages and celebrates it.
So for the rest of Black History Month, I want to challenge you to learn more about a piece of history that you might not be as familiar with (like how I hadn’t heard of Althea Gibson until my Black History Month play). Hopefully it will open your eyes and give you a new perspective, which will allow you to relate to your teammates on a deeper level.