Welcome to the power packed month of February: First, Black History Month

Issue 120 — February 3, 2020

Despite the drolly delivered good news that Punxsutawney Phil predicts an early spring, I entered February still mourning basketball great Kobe Bryant, who died along with his daughter and seven others in a helicopter crash on January 26.

The great late Kobe Bryant.

I can’t get this tragic loss of life, loss of potential, and loss of a history-making African American athlete off of my mind. I begin my Sum column this week with condolences to the families of all who perished.

I’m sad that Black History Month 2020 begins here. But such is the nature of history.

There is a tendency to use these designated months primarily as opportunities to learn and teach inspiring stories that have been left out of the history books Not surprisingly, since the narrative of history has largely been written by the dominant group, there’s a need for the rest of us to fill in the blanks.

Yet it’s so important to know all of it: the good, the bad, and the unanticipated twists of events that determine the course of our present and our future.

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Though I’m a white woman, I owe much of my life’s path to learning about Black history in America.

The Civil Rights movement ignited my passion for social justice. I identified immediately with the struggles of an oppressed minority that had been enslaved. I am just one generation removed in my own family from the loss of many of our relatives in the Holocaust.

In fighting for the rights of others, I gradually learned how to claim and then fight my own.

The two life changing lessons.

The Civil Rights Movement taught me first of all that change is possible. Change can happen when people of like mind join together with a strategy and the persistence to make it happen. It showed me that people working together can change anything, even the cultural norms I had grown up with in Texas, like segregated schools and lunch counters that “Have always been this way.”

Second, the Civil Rights Movement made me aware of the gendered discrepancies in leadership.

I saw the women doing most of the necessary slogging, hard behind-the-scenes work while men almost inevitably assumed the high profile leadership roles. And I had an epiphany: if there are civil rights, then women must have them too.

What a radical thought.

That was the moment when I knew I’d spend the rest of my life working for women’s equality, though I didn’t yet know what form that would take. I certainly couldn’t have envisioned starting Take The Lead, because I had no concept of myself as a leader at that time.

I did however realize from day one that racism, sexism, homophobia, and other prejudices are joined at the head and we will succeed or fail in fighting the forces of injustice together.

“We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now,” as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said.

And though King is the Civil Rights leader most remembered, I was most inspired by learning about Sojourner Truth who in the 1800s, long before the Civil Rights Movement of the 20th Century, said this: “If women want more rights than they’ve got, why don’t they just take them?”

Truth was hardly born into the kind of privilege that you would expect to prompt such a bold statement. In fact, she was born enslaved. Yet she became a leading abolitionist, noted women’s rights advocate (read her famous “Ain’t I A Woman” speech here) a suffragist, and a Methodist minister.

Change is always possible.

Black History Month was started as a week in 1926 by African American scholar Carter G. Woodson and became a month in 1976. It’s in the month of February because both Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln had February birthdays.

But in her article, Revisiting Black History Month, Kerra Bolton cautions against sugar coating the realities of history. For the 2019 Black History Month marked the 400th anniversary of the first enslaved people brought to mainland North America, to Jamestown, near present day Williamsburg, VA. Considering the heartbreaking racism still existing in our country right now, this is a proper time to redouble the work to change hearts as well as minds and laws.

And it doesn’t surprise me in the least that so many leaders in our present day fighting to pass the Equal Rights Amendment and write women into the U. S. Constitution at last are Black women. State senator Pat Spearman in Nevada, most recently Jennifer Carroll Foy in Virginia. They understand that indeed we are in the same boat in the quest for equality and justice for all.

I’m excited that Take The Lead’s inaugural Power Up Conference in Scottsdale February 28–29 will take place on the last days of this Black History Month. I’m grateful that our Leadership Ambassador, brand catalyst and executive coach Felicia Davis who recently received the MLK Living the Dream Award from the city of Phoenix, is our conference manager. I invite you to come join us to gain skills and inspiration from diverse leaders to ignite your own intentional leader within. Click the link to find out more and register: https://whova.com/web/takel_202002/

GLORIA FELDTis the Cofounder and President of Take The Lead, a motivational speaker and expert women’s leadership developer for companies that want to build gender balance, and a bestselling author of four books, most recently No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Former President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, she teaches “Women, Power, and Leadership” at Arizona State University and is a frequent media commentator. Learn more at www.gloriafeldt.com and www.taketheleadwomen.com. Tweet @GloriaFeldt.

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