- Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
This year, as part of Black History Month, the Diversity Collaborative will be sharing daily highlights of significant people, cultural works, and artifacts that celebrate Black history. The goal is to expand our discussion of Black history and celebrate people and topics beyond the American Civil Rights Movement.
We will collect the highlights here and continue to update this post throughout the month. Read on to learn more and be inspired.
The best allies own their privilege not as a badge of honor but as a reminder to be constantly listening and learning to become better at offering support to others.
Stacey Abrams is a political leader, voting rights activist, and New York Times bestselling author. After serving for 11 years in the Georgia House of Representatives, seven as Democratic Leader, in 2018, Abrams became the Democratic nominee for Governor of Georgia. At the time, she won more votes than any other Democrat in the state’s history. Abrams was the first black woman to become the gubernatorial nominee for a major party in the United States, and she was the first black woman and first Georgian to deliver a Response to the State of the Union. Abrams is perhaps most well-known for being a prominent voting rights activist whose efforts have been widely credited with boosting voter turnout, not only in Georgia but across the country as well. Beyond this work, Abrams is a New York Times bestselling author of both fiction and nonfiction.
Source: Fair Fight, https://fairfight.com/about-stacey-abrams/
My granny used to say to me, ‘The day you stop learning should be the day you die.'
Karamo Brown is a dynamic talk and lifestyle television host. He can currently be seen as the Culture expert on the Emmy nominated Netflix reboot, Queer Eye, where his job is to make-over the hearts and minds of the people they are helping, so they can confront and grow past the internal issues that are holding them back.
Karamo is a graduate of Florida A&M University. He worked in social services for over a decade before transitioning into media. He made history in 2004 when he appeared on MTV’s The Real World as the first openly gay African American reality TV star. he gained additional popularity as a host on Dr. Drew Live, HuffPost Live, and Access Hollywood Live. He also founded 6in10, an organization that provides mental health support and education to the LGBTQ+ community.
Shortly after the conclusion of The Real World, Karamo learned he had a nine-year-old biological child that he never knew existed. With the support of his child’s mother, he petitioned and gained full custody of his son Jason. A year after gaining custody of Jason, Karamo adopted his second son Christian, who is Jason’s half-brother.
Karamo’s ongoing mission is to use his clinical background combined with his unique life experiences to help his audience have the hard conversations with themselves so that they can engage in the hard conversations with others. Karamo believes by addressing those personal yet universal topics that affect us all, in an entertaining and digestible way; we can all learn live more stimulating and accomplished lives together.
Sources: The Curtis Brown Group, AALBC.com
For me, literacy means freedom. For the individual and for society.
LeVar Burton, multi-award winning actor, director and education advocate, is best known to television audiences around the world for his portrayals of two iconic characters—Kunte Kinte in Roots and Geordi LaForge in Star Trek: The Next Generation—and for his 23 years as producer and host of the beloved PBS series Reading Rainbow. Burton is co-founder of the award-winning Reading Rainbow digital library, which has produced the #1 educational app and has just introduced SKYBRARY, the next generation of innovative children’s educational media on the web. He is co-Executive Producer of the multi-part remake of Roots and has received the Eliot-Pearson Award for Excellence in Children’s Media from Tufts University, the 2014 Los Angeles Times Book Prizes Innovator’s Award, and the 2015 Chicago Tribune Young Adult Literary Award. Burton is also the author of the new children’s book, The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm.
Source: National Book Foundation
Dr. Mayme Agnew Clayton
We continue to make strides toward our goals and try to fulfill our dreams that one day the realization that a collection for the preservation on Black history and a National Black Archives will exist for our boys and girls so that they can have something to point to with an uplifted head, a light heart, and knowledge about there they came from, who they are, and some direction as to where they are going.
Dr. Mayme Agnew Clayton was born in August 1923 in Arkansas. Her parents instilled in her a deep appreciation for Black culture from an early age. After graduating high school, living in NYC, and getting married, she and her partner moved to Los Angeles, CA in 1946.
For most of her career, Dr. Clayton worked as a librarian. She started as a librarian’s assistant at the University of Southern California, then moved to the university’s law library. She was tasked with building the university’s collection of African American literature but became frustrated when UCLA refused to buy out-of-print books, opting instead for known contemporary classics. So she started buying out-of-print books herself, which sparked her collection.
Later, she left UCLA to join the team at Universal Books in Hollywood, CA. The bookstore was dedicated to African American works but was struggling financially. She invested in the store, become part-owner, and merged her collection with those of her business partner. But the business partner gambled away the bookstore’s money, forcing it to close. She and her partner split the remaining inventory, which meant that Clayton now owned over 4,000 volumes of books related to Black society and culture. Disappointed but not deterred, she started her own bookstore out of the garage and called it Third World Ethnic Book Store.
Dr. Clayton was also an avid golfer and traveled regularly for competitions. On those trips, she’d gather whatever Black history she could find. Her collection expanded to include “photographs, newspapers, slave documents including purchase receipts and inventory lists, films, and movie posters featuring all-black casts.” She even went to Black newspaper organizations and bought old editions. To honor the film content in her collection, she created the Black American Cinema Society, an association that hosted festivals and scholarships to elevate African American actors and filmmakers.
By the time of her death in 2006, Dr. Clayton had single-handedly collected over 2 million artifacts of Black culture, including over 30,000 out of print books. All of this was carefully stored in a three-car garage adjacent to her home (Goddard). Her trove is considered to be the largest and most academically substantial independently held collection of objects, documents, and memorabilia on African American history and culture.
Source: 28 Days of Black History, www.28daysofblackhistory.com
My work, in understanding art, and in understanding culture, has come by following artists….My interest is in the way art can change the way we think about culture and ourselves.
Thelma Golden is a recognized authority in contemporary art by artists of African descent and an active lecturer and panelist speaking about contemporary art and culture at national and international institutions. She began her career at the Whitney Museum of Art where she was on the curatorial team for the 1993 biennial. In 2000 Golden began her role at the Studio Museum Harlem and grew it’s global visibility as a museum, arts institution and education center. Golden is a recognized authority on contemporary artists of African descent. Her many lectures focus on the impact art has on and within a culture and how that culture is interpreted by art and incites dialogue and change.
Source: Studio Museum Harlem, https://studiomuseum.org/thelma-golden-director-and-chief-curator
Angelina Weld Grimké
It matters not what we have been but this and always this: what we shall be.
Angelina Weld Grimké wrote the play, "Rachel," in protest of “Birth of a Nation (1915),” a film that glorified the Ku Klux Klan and depicted a racist, demeaning view of Black people in the Reconstruction South. In response, the NAACP commissioned a series of works that would directly counter this hateful rhetoric and produced "Rachel" as part. This made this play not just a powerful theatrical production but a political piece that worked to make a new narrative mainstream.
Despite the significance of "Rachel," Angelina Weld Grimké is most remembered for her poetry. Born into a prominent biracial family of abolitionists and civil-rights activists, she actively wrote about the injustices that Black people faced during her lifetime. Her work beyond "Rachel" was a critical part of the Harlem Renaissance, an influential movement in African American literary history. Many of her poems also express a yearning for love and thoughts on loneliness. You can read some of her poetry on poets.org.
Although Grimké was particularly reclusive and private, many of her poems and diary entries suggest that Grimké was queer. Her personal journals wavered “between using male and female pronouns to conceal her lover’s gender." These letters, which have never been released to the public, "also detail her father’s disapproval of her attraction toward women.. She is one of the many LGBTQ leaders that shaped the Harlem Renaissance and paved the path for Black people for decades to come.
Source: 28 Days of Black History, www.28daysofblackhistory.com
Dr. Ibram X. Kendi
Americans have long been trained to see the deficiencies of people rather than policy. It's a pretty easy mistake to make: People are in our faces. Policies are distant. We are particularly poor at seeing the policies lurking behind the struggles of people.
Dr. Ibram X. Kendi was born Ibram Henry Rogers to parents who were student activists interested in liberation theology and the “Black Power” movement. In 2010 he earned a doctorate. Three years later Rogers married, and the couple chose a new surname. They settled on Kendi, which means “loved one” in Meru, a language of the Meru people of Kenya. At the same time, he picked Xolani (meaning “peace” in Zulu) for his middle name.
Kendi taught at various universities, including Boston University, where he became the founding director of the Center for Antiracist Research in 2020. Through his work, he advanced the theory that inequality among the races was the result of power and policy and that racist should not be considered a pejorative term. Rather, it should be used to describe one’s actions and not one’s identity. To that end, Kendi encouraged individuals to investigate racism within themselves. His views attracted widespread attention, especially from the late 2010s, when calls for racial justice intensified after a series of high-profile incidents. While many supported his theories, Kendi was not without detractors. Notably, white conservatives were particularly critical, especially of his claims concerning the pervasiveness of racism in the United States.
Kendi’s books were influential with both academic and mainstream audiences. His first book, The Black Campus Movement: Black Students and the Racial Reconstitution of Higher Education, 1965–1972, was published in 2012. It looks at Black student activism and the history of African American studies programs in both historically Black colleges and universities and predominantly white educational institutions. For his next book, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (2016), Kendi won the National Book Award for Nonfiction. Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You (2020; written with Jason Reynolds) is the young-adult version. He also released the memoir How to Be an Antiracist in 2019. Antiracist Baby (2020) is a board book. In addition, Kendi published essays in academic journals. He was awarded a MacArthur fellowship (commonly known as a “genius grant”) in 2021.
I think that a good portrait is the most difficult thing for an artist to bring off successfully. Not only must you get an accurate likeness, but you must also create a good painting. Somehow you must convey a subject’s character, spirit, and personality; and everything must convey the dynamism of the subject.
Simmie Knox is a contemporary portrait artist. Knox graduated Magna Cum Laude from Tyler School of Art at Temple University. During the 1970s Knox painted and exhibited abstract works with high caliber galleries such as the Corcoran Gallery in Washington DC. He taught at various colleges and universities in Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Washington DC. Knox turned to portrait painting in the 1980s and was the first Black artist commissioned to paint a presidential portrait. His many sitters include President Bill Clinton, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, TV Personality Host Oprah Winfrey, Yale University Professor Dr. Robert F. Thomson, and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.
Source: Simmie Knox studio, www.simmieknox.com
White House History, https://www.whitehousehistory.org/diversity-in-white-house-art-simmie-knox
Stop making excuses. Whatever your passion is, learn to master it. If decent people see you are trying, they will help you. I believe that because that is what happened in my life.
Dean Mitchell is an internationally renowned artist working in the mediums of watercolor, egg tempera, and pastel. His subject range from portrait/figurative to urban landscape. Dean has received recognition from publications such as the New York Times, Fine Art International Magazine and the Christian Science Monitor. He has earned over 400 awards to date including the 2014 Art Renewal Center Annual International Salon, Masters of the American West Fine Art Exhibition and Sale and the Arts in the Parks Award for Overall Excellence in 1999 for $50,000. His work can be found in museums across the United States. Dean is represented by J. Willot Gallery in California, Astoria Fine Art in Wyoming and Hearne Fine Art in Arkansas.
Source: Interview, Forbes Magazine, May 2021: https://www.forbes.com/sites/chaddscott/2021/05/30/is-dean-mitchell-americas-most-underappreciated-painter-judge-for-yourself/?sh=2ac2b45570b3
Living consciously involves being genuine; it involves listening and responding to others honestly and openly; it involves being in the moment.
Sidney Poitier was a Bahamian-American actor whose career spanned seven decades. He was also a director, a WWII veteran, and the Bahamian ambassador to Japan. In 1963, he was the first Black actor and first Bahamian to win the Academy Award for Best Actor. Additionally, he was voted the US top box-office start in 1967, knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1974, and awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barrack Obama in 2009. Before his passing on January 6, 2022, he was considered one of the last major stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood cinema.
Source: Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Sidney-Poitier
Dr. Daniel Hale Williams
A people who don’t make provision for their own sick and suffering are not worthy of civilization.
The son of a barber, Daniel Hale Williams founded the first black-owned hospital in America, and performed the world's first successful heart surgery, in 1893. Williams was born in 1858 in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, the fifth of seven children. After his father died, his mother, Sara Price Williams, moved the family several times. Young Daniel started as a shoemaker, but quickly knew he wanted more education. He completed secondary school in Wisconsin. At age 20, Williams became an apprentice to a former surgeon general for Wisconsin. Williams studied medicine at Chicago Medical College.
Determined that Chicago should have a hospital where both black and white doctors could study and where black nurses could receive training, Williams rallied for a hospital open to all races. After months of hard work, he opened Provident Hospital and Training School for Nurses on May 4, 1891, the country's first interracial hospital and nursing school.
One hot summer night in 1893, a young Chicagoan named James Cornish was stabbed in the chest and rushed to Provident. When Cornish started to go into shock, Williams suspected a deeper wound near the heart. He asked six doctors (four white, two black) to observe while he operated. In a cramped operating room with crude anesthesia, Williams inspected the wound between two ribs, exposing the breastbone. He cut the rib cartilage and created a small trapdoor to the heart.
Underneath, he found a damaged left internal mammary artery and sutured it. Then, inspecting the pericardium (the sac around the heart) he saw that the knife had left a gash near the right coronary artery. With the heart beating and transfusion impossible, Williams rinsed the wound with salt solution, held the edges of the palpitating wound with forceps, and sewed them together. Just 51 days after his apparently lethal wound, James Cornish walked out of the hospital. He lived for over 20 years after the surgery. The landmark operation was hailed in the press.
In 1894, Dr. Williams became chief surgeon of Freedmen's Hospital in Washington, D.C., the most prestigious medical post available to African Americans then. There, he made improvements that reduced the hospital's mortality rate. In 1895, he helped to organize the National Medical Association for black professionals, who were barred from the American Medical Association…In 1913, he became the first African American to be inducted into the American College of Surgeons.
As a sign of the esteem of the black medical community, until this day, a "code blue" at the Howard University Hospital emergency room is called a ‘Dr. Dan.’
Dr. Williams died in 1931. The Daniel Hale Williams Medical Reading Club in Washington, D.C., commemorates his achievements.”
When I look back at everything, the Olympic medal is nice, but more than the Olympic medal is the Foundation, watching the kids win Olympic medals, watching the kids going to the Olympic Games and watching and knowing the masses of children – how their lives changed.
When Peter Westbrook was a young fencer, he noticed the lack of diversity in the sport of fencing. The son of an African American father and Japanese mother, when he went to national tournaments, he looked around the room and didn’t see a lot of people who looked like him.
At international events, out of the hundreds of people there, there were times he was the only person of color.
At the Olympic level, there had been very few African American fencers who had represented the United States and none in saber. “It didn’t deter me. I still loved the sport,” Westbrook said. “It didn’t do anything to take away the love that I had for the sport.”
Westbrook had started fencing in the mid-1960s when he was 13 years old living in the housing projects in Newark, N.J. While he immediately fell in love with fencing, he was hesitant to try it.
“When [my mother] first asked me to try the sport of fencing, I said, ‘People don’t fence in America. People definitely don’t fence in the black community in the projects,’” Westbrook said. “She said, ‘Oh Peter, my family used to do it in Japan. We have so many samurai warriors.’ So I said: ‘That doesn’t help me here. Everybody’s going to make fun of me.’”
With a $5 bribe, Westbrook gave in and attended the afterschool program at Essex Catholic High School.
“They made such a big deal about me, saying ‘My god. You’re a natural,’” Westbrook said. “They made me feel so good, I was going to try it again.”
Westbrook went on to become a six-time Olympian, winning 13 National Championships in the process. In 1984, he won an Olympic bronze medal on home soil, becoming the first African American from the United States to win a medal in fencing.
Carter G. Woodson
When you control a man's thinking you do not have to worry about his actions.
An educator and scholar, author and historian, Dr. Carter G. Woodson devoted his life to the preservation and education of Black history. His time spent pursuing higher education taught him that the official school curriculum was designed to uphold anti-Black sentiment, only contributing to the inequities in society. He is most known for establishing Negro History Week in 1926, which led to the appointment of Black History Month that we celebrate (and often commercialize) today. Woodson chose the second week in February because it contained the birthdays of two major influences in Black life at the time: Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and Frederick Douglass (February 14). Born into slavery, Douglass didn’t know his exact birth date, but he chose to celebrate on February 14. But that’s only one of his many contributions. He also founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, an organization committed to “collecting records pertaining to Black America’s past and disseminate the truth about African American history.”
Source: 28 Days of Black History, www.28daysofblackhistory.com
More to come. Check back throughout the month of February.