The History Behind Black History Month

black history month graphic

It’s February, that time of year we honor the contributions and legacy of Black Americans throughout U.S. history as part of Black History Month.

When it Started and How it Began

In 1915, a half-century after the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in the United States, the story of Black History Month began. That September, Carter G. Woodson, a Harvard-trained African American historian, traveled to Chicago from his home in Washington D.C., to join a national celebration of the 50th anniversary of the emancipation. It became a turning point in his life to join thousands of Black Americans at the event and see exhibits highlighting African American achievements since the abolition of slavery. Inspired to do more to celebrate Black history and heritage, Woodson joined prominent minister Jesse E. Moorland to found the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. The organization was dedicated to researching and promoting achievements by Black Americans and other people of African descent. Known today as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, the group sponsored the first national “Negro History Week” in 1926.

Why was February Chosen?

The first national Negro History Week was celebrated during the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and abolitionist Frederick Douglass (February 14). The event inspired schools and communities nationwide to organize local celebrations, establish history clubs, and host performances and lectures. Momentum grew in the decades that followed, with mayors of cities across the country issuing yearly proclamations recognizing Negro History Week. Fueled by the civil rights movement and a growing awareness of Black identity, the weeklong event evolved into Black History Month on many college campuses in the late 1960s.

In 1976, President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month. He called upon the public to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” The speech historically set the stage for today’s growing awareness of the importance of diversity and inclusion.

Woman in pink blazer in office

Diversity and Inclusion are Important

Diversity and inclusion are essential in education, business, and all aspects of life. At its core, it’s the understanding that everyone is unique and should be respected for their differences. A focus on diversity and inclusion creates an environment where everyone feels welcome and can contribute their best ideas and talents.

Bringing people together from different backgrounds showcases a variety of perspectives, leading to greater innovation and creativity. As people feel valued, they function at full capacity and feel part of the organization’s mission. Motivation and morale soars in this environment, creating higher-performing individuals and organizations.

Diversity and inclusion are a real win-win in higher education, empowering people of all backgrounds to achieve higher levels of success.

Benefits of Higher Education for African Americans

In the last two decades, the number of Black adults with a college degree has more than doubled, from three million to 6.7 million, according to the Pew Research Center. Higher education is a gateway to a higher earning potential, expanded career options, financial stability, and a greater sense of confidence.

Higher Earning Potential

Earning a college degree boosts earning power. Full-time workers in their twenties with bachelor’s degrees earn $22,000 more per year than their counterparts with a high school diploma and no degree, the Pew Research Center reports. Over the course of your entire career, a bachelor’s degree can reap up to $900,000 more than a high school diploma alone, according to the Social Security Administration.

Expanded Career Options

In the world today, an increasing number of jobs require higher education. Approximately 65% of today’s job openings come with a college degree qualification, according to a Georgetown University report. Booming industries with opportunities for degreed adults include healthcare, information technology, finance, general business, and hospitality. A college degree not only qualifies an individual for more positions, but makes them a more desirable candidate. After finding a job, the benefits of a college degree continue. Higher education may be a requirement on the next rung of the career ladder or for managerial positions. In addition, earning a college degree expands access to opportunities through connections with a lifelong network of colleagues, mentors, advisors, and professors who can open doors or make key introductions.

Improved Financial Stability

Earning a college degree not only prepares graduates to land that all-important first job in their career, but brings greater financial stability throughout their lifetimes. Even for people who are fortunate enough to graduate in a hot job market where finding a job is easy, future job prospects can sour in an economic downturn. But having a college degree gives job seekers a competitive advantage over those who decided to forego higher education. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the more education a worker has attained, the less likely they’ll be unemployed.

Transform Your Family

Parents are role models for their children in countless ways, and earning a college degree is one of them. By graduating from college, a parent dramatically increases the odds that their child will follow in their footsteps. In fact, approximately 70% of adults with at least one parent with a college degree have completed a bachelor’s degree themselves, according to the Pew Research Center. And yet only 26% of their peers who don’t have a college-educated parent have a bachelor’s degree.

As a college graduate, parents have the firsthand experience to guide their children through college — from application through commencement. Because a college degree increases a parent’s earning power, they are more likely to have the finances to help cover the costs of a child’s college education, reducing the likelihood a child drops out.

A Greater Sense of Confidence

Earning a college degree takes years of effort, discipline, and hard work. When individuals earn a college degree, they prove to themselves that they have what it takes to set a goal and achieve it. College teaches students important critical thinking and problem-solving skills, including time management to meet deadlines. Throughout the college experience, students learn how to communicate their ideas clearly, concisely, and professionally. After students hone these critical life skills, they feel more confident as they leave college and enter the workforce.

woman in a crowd of graduates looks back at the camera

National University’s Commitment to DEI

At National University, diversity, equity, and inclusion are interwoven into everything we do. We have a comprehensive systemwide initiative on social justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion known as S-JEDI that spans our programs, services, curriculum, and workplace, all in support of serving underrepresented working adult learners. Our board of trustees, the chancellor, and the entire leadership team strive to be best in class in creating an environment where all have the opportunity to thrive and build skills to succeed at our university and beyond. We actively and intentionally use models and practices that incorporate content that reflects unique and diverse ways of knowing, being, and experiencing the world.

We created a vision statement that spells out our dedication to DEI: We envision a University where equity and inclusion are:

  • Integrated into the learning and working environment of all members of the University community
  • Recognized as core institutional values and will inform thinking, policies (following Title IX standards), and practices throughout the University
  • Inherently intertwined with academic excellence and the development of leaders for a globally inclusive society

The University works to support underrepresented and underserved students by building partnerships with organizations that provide tuition reduction scholarships and pathways to affordable degrees. Among our partners are corporations, banks, public safety organizations, and schools at the K-12 and community college levels. Our team of education and industry experts are here to help organizations diagnose challenges, skill gaps, and opportunities. For example, we can design courses that complement your business strategy and align with industry competencies.

Reach out to learn more about how to partner with NU to open education opportunities at your organization. Contact us at [email protected].

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