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OneDigital Celebrates Black History Month

February marks the start of Black History Month, dedicated to honoring, showing recognition and respect for the contributions and sacrifices made by Black Americans.

As time passes and our understanding of race expands, the ways in which we recognize, and honor Black History Month evolve too. We’ve asked our OneDigital team members how they plan to observe this month in particular, and improve their knowledge of the revolutionary work Black people have contributed to this country’s history throughout the year.

Kristen H. Eskew, Business Development Executive, OneDigital Mid-Atlantic

I have many famous black role models that inspire me, but my true hero is my father. For perspective, my dad is 72 years old. He was raised in a very small town in rural Kentucky, a quiet place that looks exactly as it did when he was a little boy. He started school at a one-room schoolhouse, literally a shack with rows for each grade, K-12. He was later bused across town to attend segregated schools and was among the second class of Black students to integrate Centre College. He joined the military, attended dental school at the University of Kentucky, and served in the Army as a dentist before retiring as an LTC and going private practice.

There are so many stories about what he has endured as a Black man throughout his journey. However, the best part about my dad is that despite some very hard experiences, he chose to follow the sentiments of Dr. King; choosing friends and loved ones based on their character, rather than any external factors. He raised me and my two sisters to do the same. He also emphasizes the importance of knowing our history and taking advantage of the opportunities he didn’t have.

Because of my dad, I know that despite the inequities that still exist today, as well as the normal life challenges that I may face, I am worthy and capable of doing, being and having, anything that I want in this life.

Stacey Motley, HR Consultant, OneDigital Mid-Atlantic

Growing up, Black History Month meant I was able to see people who looked like me discussed in a positive light and celebrated, which was not usually my experience the rest of the year. Today, Black History Month means a more concentrated celebration than the rest of the year, that is more welcomed now than ever before. I’m so happy to see our history and achievements celebrated during Black History Month because we are amazing, resilient, intelligent, and accomplished and that deserves to be celebrated this month and all year long.

My favorite Black activist AND trailblazer is Shawn Carter (better known as Jay-Z). He may not seem like the obvious choice for such a designation and that is exactly why I selected him. He is well known for his music and business savvy, while not many realize that he very quietly leads and/or supports movements that have changed many lives and sometimes the course of history for many Black people and other disenfranchised groups through The Shawn Carter Foundation. The Shawn Carter Foundation offers underserved students scholarships to attend college and participate in study abroad programs, offers college prep programs, brings financial literacy workshops to inner-city communities, is leading the fight for prison reform, and provides toys, meals, and other offerings to low-income children in housing projects in NYC. What really resonates with me about Shawn Carter is that I can see myself in his story. I grew up the picture of poverty: homeless or sharing a home with non-family members my entire childhood through the moment I left for college, using that to fuel and inspire the rest of my life, accomplishing despite, not because of, the life I knew and the environment I was raised in, defying odds, not to prove others wrong, but to prove myself right, and – most importantly – remembering that I did not find success and a way out of poverty on my own. It’s not truly winning until we’ve all won, so I don’t forget to look back, reach out, and shine a light on the path forward.

My favorite moment in Black history is Barack Obama’s entire presidency. I thought that the moment he won was the height of pride, until I saw how he led. He stuck to his values and did what he knew was right. He proved to so many people who had given up, or were afraid to hope, that we must press on and believe in what we’ve never seen. He led with integrity and lived every word of “When they go low, we go high.”

Black culture is difficult to define because it is not one thing. It’s who we are as people. It’s the similarities and the myriad of differences. It’s how we live, how we love, how we show up, how we survive, how we thrive, how we shine, and defy the expectations of others and ourselves. It enriches my life by showing me the value of difference. There is a feeling of community, of knowing without saying – the struggle, the passion, the pride, the power we hold as quietly, as we do boldly and loudly, when the moment calls for it.

Darriean Rogers, Account Manager, OneDigital Mid-Atlantic

The two black role models that have really contributed to the person I am today are my mom and dad. My parents were born and raised in Detroit, MI, and grew up in single-parent homes. My mom was the youngest of five, and my dad was the oldest of two. They both grew up with very little but have accomplished so much in their lives. They got married at a really young age and did not have much during their early years of marriage. Even though life was not easy in the beginning they still taught me to go after what I want and never let anyone stand in my way. My mother has taught me to offer grace to everyone and to show kindness towards others. My father taught me the importance of being my best self and living in my truth, always working to improve financially, emotionally, and physically.

While growing up, we did not discuss Black history as much as one would think. However, over the last ten years, we have had some long conversations about what their Blackness means to them and how their skin color has affected the decisions they have made in their lives. Today, we frequently discuss our history, generational wealth, and my personal experience as a young Black woman. My parents are candid about the potential obstacles I might face but encourage me to focus on my journey. They express the importance of building connections with people who have my best interest at heart, no matter their background or skin color.

Anne Gilson, Principal, HR Consulting, OneDigital Mid-Atlantic

Growing up in the northeast, about 20 miles from NYC, my street was literally next to the train tracks. Unknowingly to me, the other side had primarily black residents. We played on the tracks (don’t tell my Mom, who is still alive at 89). My Dad tried his hand in local/town politics, and my only memories of spending time on Maple Ave, the other side of the tracks, was that I got to eat new cuisines that were not served in my home, and they were yummy.

My parents taught me with their actions, to be inclusive. Our family pictures always included “some other kid,” friend, neighbor, local or global in the photo. My parents fostered newborn infants waiting for adoption; hosted exchange students from Europe; and invited Fresh Air Fund children from “the city” to live in our home for two weeks each summer. My memories of these visitors were that they felt like members of our family, who were more the same than different from me. Although I can tell a longer story when my Mom did wash the hair of one friend, despite her warning that “My Mom said: don’t let them wash your hair.”

I am aware that people don’t see my skin color today, and I am aware that someone’s skin color may be all that others see. This needs to change. I will change. I will become more aware. I will learn, grow, listen and see things with a new perspective.

In February my plan is three-fold: Educate, Act, Ask. It was suggested to me to read more on Diversity and Inclusion, specifically the website, The Diversity Gap. It was also suggested I listen to The Diversity Gap Podcast which I can and will do. For me, I book time on my calendar to ensure I will take action.

I am a hiring manager, a leader and I can help add diversity to the team. We have three open positions and I am committed to insisting the slate of candidates represent the community they work in. I will act.

And I will ask. I began yesterday, asking a person who I believe will challenge me, to tell me a truth. I asked them to share observations of when and how I said or took actions that were or may be considered offensive. My filter is mine, and don’t see what I don’t see. I must ask for help to shine a light into my blind spots.

So as a white chick in February 2021, I will educate myself, take clear actions and ask about my impact.

Crystal Kelly, Account Manager, OneDigital Atlanta

This month is about pride and celebration. Black history month allows us to reflect on how far people of color have advanced and to honor the paths that people before us walked to get us to where we are now. We get a chance to highlight and learn how people of color have molded and created the world we live in. We continue to be innovators, creators, trailblazers, and so much more and celebrate having the freedom to do so.

My trailblazer is my mother. As a single mother who lost six children before birthing me, she has always survived! She is a woman that was full of faith despite life’s many downs that were thrown our way. She ensured that I grew up to be educated, self-sufficient, and a God-fearing woman. She taught me how to withstand life’s trials and truly how to live. She taught me how to never give up on the things you want. Be humble and know that God made me and there are no mistakes in that. She is and will always be my trailblazer.

Michelle Obama is one of my role models. That woman is just remarkable to me! Not only is she the former FLOTUS, but she’s also a woman, extremely smart and a wife and mother. She wears those hats with pride. She is a trailblazer. No matter her struggles in life – she holds her head high, she walks with dignity and class and despite people trying to knock her down – she continues to stand! She is a true inspiration to me.

Black culture means that I am a part of a unique family of people, one with rich history, flavor, and soul. We are all so different and unique, but we are the same. We come in so many beautiful shades from all over the world. This culture is rich and regal to me. I wear my crown with pride. We are like no other. We are a strong and resilient culture and I am proud to be part of it.

Spencer Whalen, Senior Business Development Executive, OneDigital Mid-Atlantic

Black History Month is an incredibly important time of year for everyone to recognize. Personally, I see Black History Month as a time to celebrate the incredible history of accomplishment, challenge, and tenacity of Black people in our country. It is a time of year to acknowledge our rich Black history while recognizing the work that remains. Although Black History Month sounds like it relegates the celebration to one month of the year, I like to think that it primes us to remember to celebrate Black history every day of the year.

Anmarie Gaalaas, Managing Principal, OneDigital

I had believed that living a life of inclusivity was my way of recognizing and celebrating Black History Month, but recently I realized that I need to do more. At OneDigital Summit20 last summer, Charles Barkley spoke to us about becoming an ambassador for the Black community. That is my goal going forward and what I believe is how I can make the most impact towards change and equity. Part of this will be done by continuing to work with the Diversity Equity and Inclusion Committee in the DMV region and create awareness and work towards changing business hiring practices.

As a company, OneDigital is committed to cultivating and preserving a culture of inclusion and connectedness through continued education, culture and policies and a financial commitment allocating 50% of the funds raised during the Virtual OneDigital Dash to specific diversity, equity and inclusion-focused organizations. Learn more about OneDigital’s promise to stand against racial inequity.

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