In this segment of Centric Commemorates, we hear from our team member David Wilkinson and his daughter, Alexis, about their experiences and perspectives on Black History Month.
Part of our Centric Commemorates series.
History is important. Context is important. Perspective is important.
February is the recognized month for all of us to look back at the role Black Americans have played in shaping our country. We look back not only to celebrate these individuals and their contributions, but we look back to inspire us and to remind us to keep moving forward.
W.E.B Du Bois and Mae Jemison’s determination and perseverance in their fields helped pave the way for many. We honor the legacy of Black History by using our own determination and perseverance to help pave the way for others.
This year during Black History Month, we learn from history, we learn from each other, and we offer our experiences and support to others within our company. In this spirit of learning, I invited my colleague David Wilkinson from our St. Louis practice and his daughter Alexis to share their perspectives on Black History Month.
— Introduction by Maurice Faison
This year we celebrate the 45th annual Black History Month, an initiative to honor and recognize great figures within the Black community and share a history long pushed to the sidelines. As we continue the conversations the Black Lives Matter movement evoked within ourselves and our company, Black History Month holds more weight.
To me, this month means more than celebrating great people. It means celebrating everyone, regardless of what achievements or contributions to the greater cause an individual has made, because now more than ever, every Black life matters. Every aspect of Blackness matters, including our history, our triumphs, our community and our future.
I’ve built my perspective on the history and meaning of Black History Month over several decades, based both on my personal experience as a parent within the Black community and my professional experience within corporate America. Many people within the Black community, including my parents, had an entirely different experience and an entirely different perspective on the challenges our community faced and what we can achieve.
As my perspective grew from what I have learned both from the generations before me and within the Black community, I realize there is also much to learn from younger generations. I invited my daughter, Alexis, to share her thoughts based on her experience and perspective on what this month means to her generation as a young African American adult amid this ongoing fight against racism.
I asked her to share her point of view as she has taken on the fight against racial inequality and social injustice. She has broadened my thinking about the past, present and the future of the Black community. I learn every single day from both of my children — every conversation leaves me better and thinking more broadly about what we can achieve and celebrate within our community.
As Black History Month comes around this year, I find myself dealing with a mix of emotions that I didn’t have last year. I’ve felt anxious over the future as a young career-person. I’ve felt scared for my Black community as the fight against racism and police brutality captured the country’s collective attention. I’ve felt anger at the institutionalized practices and systems in place that inherently keep certain groups in positions of power over others.
But, the thing that is missing from the news flooding all of our newsfeeds is joy. Happiness. Connectedness. Empathy. Where are these stories? Why are we so inundated with constant violence that we must look away for the sake of our own well-being? Is it surprising we are now having these conversations?
For many of us, no, it is not surprising. As we begin to move forward with the psychological wounds of the preceding events fresh and gaping, how do we heal? How do we continue the work so that history does not continue to repeat itself?
It is time to have more conversations about uncomfortable things. It’s time for all of us to be brave and vulnerable and together. It’s time to not only have conversations about the bad news but the good. It’s time to focus on the joy.
For me, my joy comes from my family, my friends, and of course, my darling dog, Moe. My joy comes from seeing the first-ever woman/Jamaican/Indian Vice President of the United States. Objectively speaking, this is Black History. This moment is what little Black girls like me waited for since we first learned about Shirley Chisholm or Condoleezza Rice.
This moment is what our community has waited for, what Dr. Carter G. Woodson and his colleagues hoped for in 1915, more than 100 years before Kamala Harris would become VP. What they saw in Chicago, at the celebration for Negro achievements up until that point, was the catalyst for a program that would become Negro History Week, and later, Black History Month.
This month we celebrate not only Harris but each Black person who has paved the way for everything that we take for granted today. For Marsha P. Johnson, a Black transwoman who began the Stonewall Protest, which became the LGBTQ movement that has granted rights to many disenfranchised citizens. For Fannie Lou Hamer, a main figure in the Civil Rights movement, whose words still ring true today as we continue the endless fight against racism, classism, and other institutionalized inequalities: “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
For Bayard Rustin, Audre Lorde, Sojourner Truth, W.E.B. DuBois, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin – too many to name, to celebrate, to look at and say, “They are like me. I am strong and powerful like them.”
This month means we don’t only see the violence and fear. We see joy. We see hope.
Happy Black History Month.
— Alexis Wilkinson, Doctoral Student, University of Missouri-Columbia
Through these stories, we’ll seek to learn, understand, and empathize. We’ll celebrate our differences and realize that though we have varied backgrounds and perspectives, we are one team.
Alexis Wilkinson is currently a doctoral student at the University of Missouri-Columbia and previously completed her undergraduate work at the same institution. In 2019, she earned two bachelor’s degrees in English and psychology and a minor in Black Studies. She currently lives in Columbia, Missouri (and St. Louis when not in school). Alexis enjoys reading, writing, creating artwork, learning about Black history, listening to and creating music and spending time with her family.