Black History Month at Horizons: An Opportunity to Empower and Educate
Black History Month, which takes place in February every year, is a month-long observance and celebration of African-American culture and history. At Horizons, we recognize the importance of honoring what the month stands for in a way that educates and empowers all members of our staff.
“Horizons strives to create a workplace culture where staff members feel respected and included. Encouraging employees to celebrate Black History Month in the way that connects with them is one of the ways we work to cultivate that culture. Our team encourages employees to celebrate their diversity and what makes them unique, while also taking time to recognize the one thing we all have in common, a passion for helping families experiencing homelessness,” said Horizons CEO & President, Kate Barrand.
Shavon Drayton, Assistant Director at Horizons, has spearheaded many of the initiatives geared towards commemorating Black History Month at Horizons. A passionate advocate, she was eager to discuss her perspective on the importance of observing the annual tradition.
Beginning her career at Horizons over 2 years ago, Shavon noticed that although Black History Month was recognized, there was an opportunity to deepen conversations and engage a larger number of employees.
“My intention in starting new initiatives around Black History Month was to bring everyone together and recognize the month in its entirety. I wanted to celebrate African American individuals who may not be as widely recognized as other Black History Month icons.”
One of Shavon’s initiatives was to invite staff to read a book in February, coinciding with Black History Month. Written by African American authors, the books chosen touch on themes of race and identity. The book acts as a Black History Month catalyst, kick starting conversations across the organization.
Last year, staff read Claudia Rankine’s “Citizen: An American Lyric.” Well received internally, the tradition continued into 2020, with “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” written by Beverly Tatum.
“Horizons for Homeless Children serves many people of color; both staff and students. That makes it essential to have conversations surrounding race and identity,” said Shavon. “Employees have to feel empowered and comfortable being who they are so they can empower the children looking up to them. There has to be a cycle of education and support to set our staff and the families we serve up for success.”
The book club helps to start relevant conversations, facilitating questions for staff to consider in their day-to-day. At the end of the month, those who read the book meet to discuss the reading.
In addition to reading the book, employees are encouraged to share their personal ways of commemorating the month. Whether it is sharing that they are participating in The Boston Black Restaurant Challenge – a challenge calling for Bostonians to dine at black owned restaurants in the month of February – or wearing traditional clothing from their ancestral homes, employees are encouraged to celebrate in a way that is unique to them.
“Black History Month is so special at Horizons because it is employee led,” said Shavon. “With full support from leadership, there is an autonomy surrounding the celebration that makes it very personal and
very powerful for employees.”
Recognizing the importance of Black History Month, Horizons uses employee enthusiasm to guide positive and memorable experiences for staff of all races and ethnicities, resulting in a diverse group of participants in initiatives surrounding the month. At the end of the month staff is encouraged to attend a group dinner where participants reflect and plan new initiatives for the coming year.
“At Horizons, our goal is to instill the confidence in our staff to speak about their ancestry and celebrate where they came from. When people feel empowered about who they are and where they came from, their confidence grows in every part of their life.”
This is especially important at Horizons because of the impact it has on the next generation. When a child sees someone who looks like them celebrate their ancestry the positive effects are far-reaching.
“Every child should be able to look at someone in their life and think “that person who looks like me is proud of where they came from,” added Shavon.
Horizons works diligently to ensure that students are aware of Black History Month. This year, the book “I Am Enough” was received by all Horizons classrooms. The picture book centers on an African American girl and is a visual ode to loving who you are and loving others for who they are. One of Horizons’ trauma-informed books, the story is one on Horizons’ curated list of books that helps children process the trauma of homelessness. “I Am Enough” centers on themes of kindness and acceptance, teaching tolerance in a beautifully visual way.
“Children need to be represented in the books they read,” said Shavon. “Seeing themselves in the characters goes a long way toward developing healthy feelings of self-worth and self-empowerment.”
“I Am Enough” helps our kids see themselves represented in a positive way,” added Shavon.
As a result of the enthusiasm for celebrating Black History Month, an Employee Resource Group was created to ensure that African-American culture and history are celebrated throughout the year. The group meets regularly to discuss ways to encourage diversity and inclusivity in the workplace.
This post was written by Rachel San Giacomo, a regular contributor to Horizons’ blog.