What Black History Month Means to Me (2024)

What Black History Month Means to Me (1)

I thought a lot about what to write in honor of Black History Month. We often hear stories and quotes from heroes like Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman. While these individuals are worthy of praise, I wanted to share something more personal. So, I thought I’d share what Black history is to me.

Not just one month out of the year

When I was in school, February was when the stories and history of people who looked like me were amplified. Maybe this was the only time some kids heard these stories, but not me. My parents and grandparents made sure to teach me about Black history all the time. It was important to them that we knew more than what was portrayed on the news. We talked about Black inventors, writers, musicians and filmmakers. We also discussed the groundbreakers who fought for civil rights and equality. That was so important!

Our home was filled with books by African-American writers and poets. A voracious reader as a youngster, I read Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Zora Neal Hurston, Alice Walker, Maya Angelou, Richard Wright, Toni Morrison and many others. Black stories and Black voices weren’t just for Black History Month in our house.

My family’s lived experience of Black history

I also heard my family members’ firsthand stories of humiliation and pain, pride and triumph. I heard how my grandmother got kicked out of a store for having the audacity to touch the packaged bread. You see, people like her were not allowed to feel the bread to see if it was still fresh.

My mom told me how she and her Black friends were expected to move over and keep their eyes averted when white people walked toward them on the sidewalk. She also told me that as a young girl, she would not avert her eyes — an act of defiance that earned her slaps from her mother, who feared repercussions.

They said on cross-country trips to visit family, they had to pack meals and water because they couldn’t stop at any restaurants or diners on the way. They were all “whites only.” They told stories about friends and family lost to lynch mobs, and the crosses burned in front yards of those who had the nerve to step out of place. It was hard for me to wrap my mind around the atrocities committed just because of skin color! As a young girl, I just couldn’t understand.

The burden of being “the first”

I heard about all the times my parents, grandparents and others were “the first” at various things — and the extra burden that came with that. When you are the first Black person to do a thing (be hired, promoted, appointed, elected, etc.), all eyes are on you, and the expectation — the burden — to perform with excellence is very high. It was clear that you weren’t just representing yourself; you somehow had to represent your entire race.

My mom was in the first integrated class of Central High School here in Kansas City, Missouri. She told stories of how she was treated — spat on, ridiculed, threatened. And she kept going back to school! I marvel at how she could have possibly learned in that kind of environment, but she did.

These stories were shared not out of anger or indignation. They were just shared as facts and their lived experience. They lived Black history and shared that history, so we didn’t take a thing for granted. They wanted us to know why they were so proud, why they worked so hard, and why it was expected that our generation would do the same. This expectation was in honor of the strong Black people who fought and endured so that we could live, work, learn and play in the way that we do now.

We are better and can achieve more together

Sharing stories and understanding Black perspectives and contributions are key themes during Black History Month because these things were otherwise not taught. But what if we do this with intentionality all year — seeking to hear and amplify voices and accomplishments of not only Black people, but also those across different cultures and races, religions, abilities, genders and sexual orientations?

We really are better and can achieve more together than we ever could separately. It is why I believe representation matters. Diversity, equity and inclusion matters. We owe it to ourselves and to those who paved the way before us to be intentional about these efforts. Not just because it’s February, but because diversity of thought, ideas and experiences makes our lives richer — and enhances the potential of our organizations.

About the author

As CEO ofKansas Manufacturing Solutions (Kansas MEP), Tiffany Stovall leads a team of trusted advisors in their continued achievement of the MEP Center’smission to create measurable growth for Kansas manufacturers. Tiffany is also looking to the future, ensuring that Kansas Manufacturing Solutions is focusing on the evolving needs of the Kansas manufacturing industry with additional concentration on workforce development, cybersecurity and continuous improvement to enhance domestic and global competitiveness.

Tiffany is a vocal advocate for Kansas manufacturers.She has developed partnership relationships with key local and state organizations with the goal of ensuring that manufacturers’ issues are heard at the level where decisions to support the industry can be made.She believes that Kansas manufacturers have a tremendous opportunity for growth.

She currently is Treasurer on the board of American Small Manufacturers Coalition, a member of the BioKansas Board of Directors,and is a co-Chair for KC Rising, Industry Action Team. Tiffany is an alumna of Leadership Kansas, class of 2020, and was honored by Ingrams magazine as one of 50 Kansans to know in 2022.

About the author

Tiffany Stovall

As CEO ofKansas Manufacturing Solutions (Kansas MEP), Tiffany Stovall leads a team of trusted advisors in their continued achievement of the MEP Center’smission to create measurable growth for...


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What Black History Month Means to Me (2024)


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