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Thought Leadership | February 20, 2024

The Legacies That Inspire Me: Reflections on Black History Month

K.D. Bryant, Director, Enterprise Communications

Contemplating this year’s Black History Month theme, “African Americans and the Arts,” I know my career and personal life directly reflect the influence music, poetry, film, art and storytelling has had on my life. Langston Hughes, Toni Morrison, Paul Robeson, Leontyne Price, Lena Horne, Sidney Portier, August Wilson, Nikki Giovanni and Lorraine Hansberry are a few of the greats whose artistry led me to journalism as a profession and creative writing as a passion.


Understanding the theme of Black History Month, I still wasn’t sure how to unpack the legacy of so many remarkable people and how they’ve influenced my own journey.

So, I began with one of my favorite music playlists. Listening to “Wade in the Water,” “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “Soon I Will Be Done with the Troubles of the World,” and others took me back to childhood memories sitting at my dad’s feet as he explained how these spirituals weren’t just songs; they were coded messages enslaved people used to openly share escape plans. My parents were teachers, and Black history was part of everyday history for me—hearing these stories wasn’t uncommon. Still, I soon learned that most people didn’t hear these stories until the one month when Black history was brought to the forefront of American history.


Remember, before cable offered a thousand channels, there was only a choice of about six—if you were lucky but, during Black History Month, you could count on public television and your remaining five channels to feature programs and documentaries about the African American experience. The programming was informative but often painful to watch. And while there may have been uncomfortable next-day what-should-I-say-moments in classrooms and workplaces around the country, there was conversation, which often led to opportunities for understanding. My dad always reminded me that times were changing, and these significant Black history moments won’t always be shelved until February. Most importantly, my parents stressed the significance of remembering where we’ve come from, who we’ve come from, and what we’ve overcome to get where we are today.


As far as necessities go, I can’t imagine life without traffic lights, security systems, Caller ID, the touchtone phone, potato chips, peanut butter or the Super Soaker. That’s not a random list. That’s a small catalogue of the products and technologies invented by Black Americans. I’m incredibly thankful, as well, that my food stays fresh because Frederick McKinley Jones developed refrigeration equipment. His work also contributed to preserving blood and medicine, which was helpful during WWII. These men and women did amazing things for Black people and to make the world better for all people. Their names – whether they’ve won a Grammy, put a rocket into space, or cured disease – matter.


That’s why Black History Month will always be necessary to remember, honor and recognize those whose names might otherwise fade from our cultural consciousness in the decades to come. I’m also aware that words like “First Black astronaut,” “First Black president,” or “First Black fill-in-the-blank” are still frequently spoken even in the advanced world we live in today. I hope that one day, Black History Month will become the starting point for year-long learning, or that the Black experience will be so woven into our national tapestry that it becomes the integral thread of American history that it deserves to be. Until then, let’s continue telling the stories, singing the songs, watching the documentaries, having conversations, and most importantly, remembering the names.


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KD Bryant is the Director of Enterprise Communications at Rheem. She graduated from the University of Georgia and now serves her alma mater as a board member of the Grady College of Journalism. A lifelong Georgia resident, KD enjoys traveling with her family, music and trying new cuisine.