This year, Black History Month offers the opportunity to not only reflect on significant events and people who are a part of our history, but also acknowledge that we are living through historic times.
While we can look backward, we can also pause to recognize that history is happening all around us, and consider the contemporary changemakers who will soon be inscribed in the historical record.
When I wrote about Black History Month last year, I had no idea that a global pandemic would significantly change the way we live, work, care for our families, and interact with our friends and communities. I was, however, keenly aware that things needed to change for the better for Black people living in America and throughout the world. The effects of long-term institutional and individual discrimination in healthcare, education, and employment persists within our society. Yet we see the persistence and fortitude of Black artists, activists, technologists, politicians, and others to bring attention to and solve these challenges.
For example, when Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in the U.S., talks about coronavirus vaccine research, he praises the work of a young Black scientist named Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett. Dr. Corbett is the National Institute of Health’s lead scientist on the COVID-19 vaccine from Moderna, arguably one of the most important vaccines of our time. Not only is Dr. Corbett a tremendous role model for young Black people, motivating them to overcome challenges and realize their full potential, but her work also increases confidence in the vaccine and will hopefully improve the health outcomes of Black communities.
Dr. Corbett’s contribution to modern healthcare reminds us of the role of earlier Black inventors and scientists, such as Garrett Augustus Morgan, the African American inventor of the gas mask and the traffic signal; or Daniel Hale Williams, an American physician and founder of Provident Hospital in Chicago, who is credited with the first successful heart surgery; or more recently, Patricia Bath, an ophthalmologist and laser scientist who was an innovative research scientist and advocate for blindness prevention, treatment, and cure. Bath’s accomplishments include the invention of a new device and technique for cataract surgery known as laserphaco, and the creation of a new discipline known as “community ophthalmology.”
Today, there are many unsung heroes in our midst, and more and more we are seeing organizations and individuals who are taking action and turning it into political power.
After Lucy McBath’s son, Jordan Davis, was shot and killed for listening to “loud music” while sitting in the backseat of a friend’s car at a gas station, McBath dedicated her life to preventing other families from experiencing the same pain she did. She left her 30-year career as a flight attendant for Delta Airlines to become the national spokesperson and outreach leader for Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. In 2017, after the mass shooting that killed 17 high school students at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, McBath knew she had to stand up and run for Congress. Since taking her oath of office, she has identified bipartisan solutions to end gun violence, uplift small businesses, protect and serve U.S. veterans, and lower the cost of healthcare and prescription drugs.
Stacy Abrams, an American politician, lawyer, and voting rights activist, founded Fair Fight Action to stop voter suppression in Georgia. Her efforts have been widely credited with boosting voter turnout in the state during the 2020 presidential election, where Joe Biden won the state, as well as in Georgia’s 2020-21 U.S. Senate election and special election, which gave Democrats control over the Senate.
Congresswoman McBath’s and Ms. Abrams’s contributions remind me of the fleeting successes of African American Reconstruction Era politicians. During this era, more than 1,500 African Americans served in political capacities, including five Republican Senators and the U.S. Representatives Benjamin S. Turner (R-AL), Robert DeLarge (R-SC), Josiah Walls (R-FL), Jefferson Long (R-GA), Joseph Rainey, and Robert B. Elliott (R-SC).
Hiram Revels (R-MS) was the first African American elected to the U.S. Senate. He was born free in North Carolina and attended college in Illinois. Revels worked as a preacher in the Midwest in the 1850s and as a chaplain to a Black regiment in the Union Army before going to Mississippi in 1865 to work for the Freedmen’s Bureau. Blanche Bruce, elected to the Senate in 1875 from Mississippi, had been enslaved but received some education. The background of these men was typical of the leaders that emerged during the Reconstruction.
In 1967, almost a century after Revels and Bruce served in the U.S. Senate during Reconstruction, Edward Brooke of Massachusetts became the first African American senator elected by popular vote.
History in the Making at SAP
The demonstrations and protests that broke out last year are built on the history of African American activism and achievement that has been essential to the success of the U.S. I am proud that SAP was quick to acknowledge the grief and anger that our employees were feeling and to invest in our Black employees and the Black community. SAP has introduced a Pro Bono for Economic Equity program so that employees can share their know-how and expertise to help solve critical business challenges for Black-owned businesses affected by social and racial injustices in the U.S. SAP also launched the Spotlight Black Businesses program to assist Black-owned businesses that have been impacted by COVID-19 and protests caused by social unrest.
As a society, we have made progress that will continue to be documented in our history books, but we must also continue to push for greater opportunity in all aspects of our lives. Only then will we be truly equally represented in society and will “Black History” be remembered as our shared history.
Black History Month Events at SAP
Throughout the month of February, SAP and pro golfer Cameron Champ are teaming up to “drive change.” Each week, Champ will play in a golf tournament in support of one of the Black-owned businesses featured in the Spotlight Black Businesses initiative. If Champ’s driving distance averages 320 yards during the tournament, SAP and the Cameron Champ Foundation will donate $10,000 to that week’s featured business.
On February 25, from 4:15-5:15 p.m. ET, the Annual EY-SAP Black History Month Executive Roundtable will hold a “Boardroom Conversation on Inclusion.” The session will be held virtually and will cover how boards are overseeing their companies’ progress on diversity and inclusion, as well as advancing diversity inside the boardroom — what works, what doesn’t.
Judith Williams is head of People Sustainability and chief diversity and inclusion officer at SAP SE.