“The family offers a rich tapestry of images for exploring the African American past and present.”

This sentiment from the Association for the Study of African American Life and History frames the theme for Black History Month 2021, “The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity," through highlighting the immense influence of family in the Black experience. The annual observance in February draws attention to the accomplishments of Black Americans. It also considers the state of race relations and the urgent need for ending racism and remedying systems and policies that have long perpetuated violence in all its forms, including brutality against Black and Brown bodies, economic discrimination and marginalization, and health inequity. 

The Alliance for Strong Families and Communities and Council on Accreditation (COA) recognize that growing up in a Black family in the U.S. often looks very different than in a white family. As part of our commitment to a healthy and equitable society, we and our partners in the social sector work to bridge historical barriers and persistent challenges with contemporary solutions and best practices to end racism, inequity, and poverty. This commitment recognizes multigenerational Black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) families as the experts in what is important to realizing their full potential, as well as the importance of cross-sector approaches to advancing equity, partnering with purpose, and building on successes in improving the social determinants of health.

The Fierce Urgency of Now

One year before he was assassinated, Martin Luther King Jr. gave his Riverside Church speech, which largely focused on the need to accelerate a greater agenda of social justice: “We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. … This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.” Even 54 years later, that urgency continues. A significant number of African Americans and other historically marginalized communities have been ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic upheaval. The mass racial unrest and social uprisings in 2020 were in response to the ongoing systemic racism evident in police brutality and white supremacy. Black communities are doing their best to protect children and adults against these adversities, but self-determinism is not enough. Action must also be made by those who benefit from the dominant white culture.  

“The importance that we all must support each other along the equity, diversity, and inclusion journey is critical regardless of race. Still, the need to recognize the historical trauma, direct marginalization, and dismissal of BIPOC individuals and communities over the centuries cries out for meaningful and authentic action on the part of our white brothers and sisters,” shares Undraye Howard, senior director of equity, diversity, and inclusion and engagement at the Alliance and COA.

Pathways for Change

The challenges facing Black families are immense. But there are pathways for change. Last month, President Biden signed an executive order on racial equity. “We were pleased to see an executive order that directs federal agencies to engage with communities who have been historically underrepresented, underserved, and discriminated against in federal policies,” says Jody Levison-Johnson, president and CEO of the Alliance and COA, “Our organizations’ policy and advocacy priorities use a race equity lens as part of our commitment to change.”

Recent initiatives focused on health and well-being for families of color include a federal appropriations package for a new pilot program that will provide states, localities, and tribes with grants to create Social Determinants of Health Accelerator Plans. With the critical goal of improving social determinants through health equity, the Alliance and COA are also partnering with the Morehouse School of Medicine and other social sector organizations to mobilize community-based organizations in the National COVID-19 Resiliency Network (NCRN). This initiative is focused on mitigating the negative impact of COVID-19 on racial and ethnic minority and American Indian and Alaska Native communities that are disproportionately impacted through disseminating culturally and linguistically relevant resources to the hardest hit communities. 

Families caught in entrenched poverty caused by institutional racism can benefit from multigenerational approaches to family and community success, along with collective action to gain access to the resources and supports necessary for well-being. Tackling the complex barriers to socioeconomic mobility requires sustained strategies that include the innovation of community-based organizations to co-create mutually reinforcing solutions. They do this by applying evidence-based approaches such as:

Building on Strengths

Generations of Black and Brown families have endured with resilience and hope. Black History Month is an opportunity to celebrate the rich history of family, community, ancestry, and culture in the African-American experience, and to recognize individuals’ lived experiences are not singular but rather multifaceted and diverse. The observance should also be a reminder of trauma’s powerful impact and that what’s past remains in our present. These are issues to consider year-round.  

Raising up Black children, mothers, fathers, and their family members advances society as a whole. Throughout the month, the Alliance and COA will highlight Black voices and stories, focus on strengths-based and collaborative socioeconomic mobility solutions, share emerging research and best practices, and extend opportunities for learning and action. 

Here are some ways to join our work on equity, diversity, and inclusion today:

  1. Participate in learning modules about advancing equity
            *New this month! Advancing Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion for a More Perfect Union (Sold out! Join the priority waiting list.)
  2. Sign up for the National COVID-19 Resiliency Network’s pandemic response updates
  3. Subscribe to Alliance and COA policy and advocacy updates
  4. Connect with peers and industry experts in the Advancing Equity Alliance Peer Exchange (APEX) group (Alliance network exclusive)
  5. Browse Alliance Library research, tools and templates, and expert resources (Alliance network exclusive) 
  6. Live at the Virtual Barbershop Series: All over America, the barbershop continues to serve as a second home and place of refuge, healing, and compassion for Black men. This virtual gathering features an experienced panel of Black male executives sharing experiences and recommendations for advancing anti-racist leadership and championing equity-focused action in human services organizations. Stay tuned for new presentations in spring 2021!