Gregory Floyd, President, Teamsters Local 237 and Vice President at-large on the General Board of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (58516)
Gregory Floyd, President, Teamsters Local 237 and Vice President at-large on the General Board of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters

February is Black History Month. It’s a time to celebrate and educate. It’s a time to acknowledge accomplishments, delight in a rich heritage, and retell the history of a people too often forgotten, mistreated, and misunderstood. The originators of the idea for a Black history celebration were historians Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson and his associate, Jesse Moorland. They created the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915 to promote Black history and recognize achievements of African Americans. But they knew that was not enough. As Woodson argued, “If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition; it is a negligible factor in the thoughts of the world and stands in danger of being exterminated.” So, in 1926, they launched “Negro History Week” on the second week of February, because it coincided with former President Abraham Lincoln’s and abolitionist Frederick Douglass’ birthdays. But it took 50 years for the week to become a month when former President Gerald Ford created Black History Month in 1976.

Today, Black History Month is not without controversy. To some critics, empowerment is not accomplished by one month of recognition. Some find it outdated, only symbolic, not necessary, and even separatist. For me, there is no controversy. Black History Month is not about validation, it’s about involvement; it’s about action. It’s both a time of recognition and a call to duty. In labor unions, there’s an important organizing principle used to increase our numbers, demonstrate power, and harvest our next generation of unionists, which is applicable here. Especially in order to grow a cadre of potential leaders who will take us to the next plateau, we must inspire and excite young people. We must also remember and thank those who have led the way with words and actions that changed history. Surely, there is tremendous wisdom in the words of Winston Churchill, who said, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

The celebration of February as Black History Month should not be about avoiding mistakes, but instead, about creating more accomplishments, breaking more barriers, and earning the respect of all people. And, in keeping with the tradition of February as the month for acknowledging the best in many categories—from the Super Bowl to the Grammy Awards—let’s use the occasion to honor our own “Best In Class” list and work to add more names to it. For sure, the list is already long with many giants and firsts past and present, including Dr. King, former President Barack Obama, Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, and Congressman and Chairman of the Democratic Caucus Hakeem Jeffries. But Black History Month—which remembers the past, celebrates the present, and looks to the future—should also be a time that helps to motivate, mentor, and nurture our next generation of champions in the struggle for social and labor justice.

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