February is Black History Month, and the United Way of Greater Chattanooga staff is taking time to reflect on our personal journeys in the fight for racial equity. We have been having conversations with one another about what Black history means to us, both individually as an organization. We have also been sharing ways we are celebrating Black history this month and what we are learning as we ramp up our focus on equity, diversity and inclusion. 

We want to share these reflections with our community. We hope you will glean something meaningful from these testimonies. We hope you will be encouraged to reach out to your neighbor and ask – what does Black History Month mean to you? How are you celebrating? What are you learning? 

Katie, Communications Associate

“When I reflect on Black history, I think about what I don’t know. Over the past year, so many of us have heard the need to amplify Black voices – especially the voices that haven’t been heard and the voices that have been heard but dismissed. My hope for this month and beyond is to dive deeper into Black history and to walk alongside my Black and Brown neighbors in the fight for equity and justice.”

Jamaine, Relationship Manager/Operations & Labor Relations

“When I reflect on Black history, I remember those who paved the way for me. As someone who works to represent the labor force and has a background as an electrician, I have been reflecting specifically on the life of Sam Whitney – the first Black electrician and member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. What did he experience so that I could follow in his footsteps?”

Jessica, Relationship Manager

“To me, Black History month means acknowledging and celebrating our differences. It means constantly learning about our Black brothers and sisters, yet acknowledging that I can never fully understand our history on the deepest level of racial prejudice. It means pausing to recognize the divide, and then taking real steps to bridge the gap.”

Tony, Director of Workforce Engagement

“Black History Month indicates to me that we are progressing to a more united nation — we are taking the time to educate ourselves about all of the diverse citizens of this country and their history. I choose to celebrate continually, not just in the month of February. I continue to learn year-round. Historically, I am learning what those who came before me had to suffer so that I would be able to have the life I do, including the job I have and the place of authority that I am in now.”

Kate, Executive Assistant to the President/CEO

“Communally, Black History Month means celebrating voices, names, stories, minds, experiences and lives who have deeply shaped and impacted our world, countries, cities and communities despite centuries of oppression meant silence and erase the value of the Black man and woman. Personally, Black History Month is a specific time to remember, reflect, listen and celebrate the joy and resilience of Black men and women in my life. I’m learning that remembering and honoring is not just a sentiment. Remembering history should be purposeful – it should drive us into action and awareness of how to make change for the future, ensuring generations of people celebrate and honor Black history everyday.”

Elle, Education Initiatives Program Associate

“Black History Month offers a time for me to reflect on ways in which Black individuals have succeeded amidst the challenges they have faced both historically and on a daily basis. This reflection allows me to honor all those that came before us to shape our country while acknowledging how far we have to go. I am celebrating by learning more about Black history and about ways that I can support the changes that need to be made through my work at United Way and in my personal life.”

Carl, Director of Development Operations

“I’m reminded how history is filled with the ordinary, and extraordinary, accomplishments of our Black neighbors. In America, despite hundreds of years of terrible discrimination and mistreatment, so many Black Americans have not given up. They persevere with kindness, love and commitment. I wonder if I would do the same if this were my history.”

Tristan, Intern Research Analyst

“Black History Month is a time we reflect on the hardships and achievements of Black people today and throughout history. This shouldn’t just be a monthly occasion, but instead an integral part of our history in the United States. I celebrate Black History by watching documentaries and movies, and I research what my people have gone through and the current problems we face today. Sometimes I feel empowered, and other times I feel anguish.”

Black history affects us all. 

Black history should be emphasized as integral to our history as a nation year-round. Don’t let your celebration of our Black neighbors end with the month of February. Continue to educate yourself and have important conversations in the months and year ahead. Let’s amplify the voices of Black Chattanoogans and continue to lift each other up – because what we do together today determines how we LIVE UNITED tomorrow.