Celebrating National Black History Month
Booker T. Washington
1856 – 1915
Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed.
ebruary is Black History
Month, a time to celebrate the contributions that African Americans have made to our country and our communities. From meeting Rosa Parks in a small-town bookstore to being inspired by the first Black man to serve on the supreme court, our Amerifirst team members share the stories of Black Americans who they admire.
Black History Month began in 1915, half a century after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in the United States.
That September, the Harvard-trained historian Carter G. Woodson and the prominent minister Jesse E. Moorland founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), an organization dedicated to researching and promoting achievements by Black Americans and other peoples of African descent.
Known today as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), the group sponsored a national Negro History week in 1926, choosing the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The event inspired schools and communities nationwide to organize local
Black Leaders We Admire
ABOUT BLACK HISTORY MONTH
celebrations, establish history clubs and host performances and lectures.
In the decades that followed, mayors of cities across the country began issuing yearly proclamations recognizing Negro History Week. By the late 1960s, thanks in part to the civil rights movement and a growing awareness of Black identity, Negro History Week had evolved into Black History Month on many college campuses.
President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month in 1976, calling upon the public to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
Carter G. Woodson founded Negro History Week in 1926 because “knowing the past helps us to open the door to the future.” Below, four of our Black team members point to the Black Americans whose achievements have helped inspire them to live their lives with meaning and purpose today.
Even before taking her famous seat on the bus, Rosa Parks was actively involved in the Civil Rights Movement. She worked beside her husband to organize meetings and raise funds for the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). On December 1, 1955, she took a seat in the front of the negro section on a Montgomery, Alabama bus. As the bus filled with white passengers, the driver demanded that she give her seat to one of them. Parks refused and was arrested for violation of the state’s segregation law. Her actions on that day ignited the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The United States Congress has called her "the first lady of civil rights" and "the mother of the freedom movement."
1913 – 2005
Escrow Specialist | Inspired by: Rosa Parks
Qianna Decker was barely a teenager when she met civil rights activist Rosa Parks at a bookstore in Muskegon, Michigan. Qianna attended the book signing event with her mother, who had just self-published a Black American history book* that was later used throughout the Kalamazoo School District.
“Nothing can ever top my visit with Rosa Parks,” said Qianna. “She told us about her struggles growing up and how it affected her. I have an autographed book from her that I will pass down to my children as they learn their history.”
The Kalamazoo, Michigan native says her mom’s philosophy of “everyone has a place – now go find yours” inspired her to pursue a career in the mortgage industry to help underserved populations gain access to affordable housing.
“It’s time to act because my country, your country, our country, depends on it,” she said. “I believe it is never the wrong time to do the right thing, treat others the way you want to be treated, and always speak with principle, walk with purpose, and work with passion.”
I believe it is never the wrong time to do the right thing, treat others the way you want to be treated, and always speak with principle, walk with purpose, and work with passion.
Loan Officer | Inspired by: A.G. Gaston and Reginald Lewis
Nathan Edelen says his parents taught him the importance of setting a good example for others as a child growing up in the greater Orlando area. The summers he spent at his grandmother’s home in Brooklyn, N.Y., gave him ample opportunities to hone his leadership skills as a role model to his younger brother and
“As humans, we follow what we see, more than what we’re told,” said Nathan.
The examples set by black entrepreneurs Gaston and Lewis have given me the drive to set goals and pursue them.
Seeing African Americans achieve personal and professional success shows what’s possible for all people of color, he says.
“The examples set by black entrepreneurs Gaston and Lewis have given me the drive to set goals and pursue them,” said Nathan. “They provide a blueprint in terms of investing, thinking outside the box, and building businesses to employ and advance the lives of other
*Black American, Volume 1, (1619 to 1877); Black American, Volume II (1867-1919), by Gail S. Rumph.
Underwriter | Inspired by: Thurgood Marshall
Annette Gardner was born and raised in rural Monroe, North Carolina. As the youngest of ten children, she learned the value of hard work as she helped her parents raise livestock and grow fruits and vegetables to feed their large family.
“My parents ensured we grew up close,” said Annette. “And we remain close today. They taught us to put God first in everything we do, love others, get a good education, and treat everyone you meet like you would want to
Annette is inspired by civil rights activist Thurgood Marshall because he was the first Black American to serve as Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
We've made some progress towards
racial equality and civil rights over
the years, but still face many of the
“We’ve made some progress towards racial equality and civil rights over the years, but we still face many of the same challenges that African Americans faced in the 60s. And if I can quote Dr. King, I look forward to a day when we will not be judged by the color of our skin but by the content of our character.”
Elearning & Content Management Concierge
Inspired by: Les Brown
Blake Eason will be the first to tell you he is passionate about the arts. A painter, illustrator, and gaming programmer, his portfolio includes book covers, children’s books, and character design. He is also working on a series of acrylic portraits for an upcoming virtual art show.
He credits his mother for teaching him the values of patience and persistence.
“I’m thankful for these qualities because the challenges of life are never-ending,” he said. “It’s important to continue to listen and empathize with people who face issues we’ve never experienced. As we increase our understanding of one another, we can create solutions that allow us to grow together.”
It's important to continue to listen and empathize with people who face issues we've never experienced.
Blake discovered Les Brown as he began pursuing an art career and finds his messages refreshing when he encounters challenges and setbacks. “When life knocks you down, try to land on your back. Because if you can look up, you can get up. Let your reason get you back up.” – Les Brown.
“Through my art, I’ve learned that being able to pivot when things go wrong can create solutions that were previously invisible,” said Blake. “Bob Ross calls them ‘happy accidents’.”
We still have a long way to go to combat racial discrimination and inequality, says Qianna.
"Having representation at the highest levels of our judicial system gives us hope,” she said.
Arthur George Gaston was an American businessman who established a number of businesses in Birmingham, Alabama, and who played a significant role in the struggle to integrate Birmingham in 1963. In his lifetime, Gaston's companies were some of the most prominent African American businesses in the American South. Realizing that there were not enough blacks with sufficient training to be able to work in the insurance and funeral industries, in 1939 he and his second wife, Minnie L. Gardner Gaston, established the Booker T. Washington business school. When he died at age 103, he left behind the Booker T. Washington Insurance Company, the A.G. Gaston Construction Company, the A.G. Gaston Boys and Girls Club, and CFS Bancshares, the nation’s second-largest black- owned bank.
1892 – 1996
Reginald F. Lewis was a business pioneer, philanthropist, and titan. A Harvard Law School graduate, Lewis rose to prominence as a lawyer, financier, and leader of the global food company TLC Beatrice International. Lewis was the first African American ever to close an overseas billion dollar leveraged buyout deal. Lewis used his wealth to help support the African American community, becoming one of the first major funders to Jesse Jackson’s campaign. A passionate philanthropist, Lewis donated $3 million to Harvard Law School, the largest donation by an individual to the school at the time. In January 1993, his remarkable career was cut short by his untimely death at the age of 50 after a short illness.
1942 – 1993
After being denied entrance to the University of Maryland Law School because of his race, Thurgood Marshall defied the odds by becoming the first African American Justice appointed to the United States Supreme Court. Prior to his appointment, he worked as a civil rights activist and lead counsel with the NAACP, where he argued the Brown vs. Board of Education case in front of the Supreme Court. The Court’s decision led to the desegregation of public schools. He served on the Supreme Court for 24 years, championing the plights of women and minorities, safeguarding the rights of criminal suspects, and working against the death penalty. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1993.
1908 – 1993
Leslie Calvin "Les" Brown was born into poverty on Feb. 17, 1945, and was adopted, along with his twin brother, at six weeks of age by Mrs. Mamie Brown. Despite being labeled “educable mentally retarded” in grade school, he pursued a radio broadcasting career. He also became politically active, serving as a member of the Ohio House of Representatives from 1976 to 1981. In 1990, he recorded the Emmy Award-winning series of speeches entitled You Deserve, which became the lead fundraising program of its kind for pledges to PBS stations nationwide. He is a motivational speaker, author, former radio DJ, and former television host. As a motivational speaker, he uses the catchphrase "it's possible!" to encourage people to follow their dreams.
Sources: greatblackheroes.com & history.com