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BLACK HISTORY MONTH, WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO ME? “SAY IT LOUD, I AM BLACK, & I AM PROUD”

Black History Month - Greg DeShields blog

By Greg DeShields, Executive Director with Tourism Diversity Matters

I remember in 1968 when I was ten, and my dad brought a new James Brown 45 record home and played it on the family stereo (which I could never use).  What a cool song, “Say It Loud, I Am Black, & I Am Proud.”  This song is about black pride. James Brown was a leader in the black community and encouraged us as black people to stand up for our rights. The ’60s were a tumultuous time for race relations in America, and this song became an anthem for the black power movement.

According to Al Sharpton, the song came about when James Brown witnessed infighting among blacks in Los Angeles. “We’ve lost our pride,” James thought. He went to his hotel room and wrote the lyrics on a napkin.

Like a typical 10-year-old, I had frequent friendly battles with my brothers, wanted to impress my friends, and wear the right clothes. However, music was everything back then. If you were black with brothers (I have 3), you wanted to be the next Jackson 5 or DeShields 4.  For days after I heard the song “Say It Loud, I Am Black, & I Am Proud,” this call-and-response style was my answer to everything my parents asked of me.  Gotta go to school, “Say It Loud, I Am Black, & I Am Proud” Time for dinner, “Say It Loud, I Am Black, & I Am Proud,” Go to bed, “Say It Loud, I Am Black, & I Am Proud.”

Today, I wonder what my parents thought about hearing their child recite “Say It Loud, I Am Black, & I Am Proud” when race relations in America were difficult. Remember Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in April of 1968.  I recall the television news alert; my mother brought us downstairs to watch the news and face the reality of a significant loss for the Black community. Were we seen as the hope for Black people in the future continuing to strive for Equality, or were we at risk to suffer the same fate?

As I got older, in the 1970s, the song took on new meaning; when in high school, it was a statement of who I was, Racial tensions were high, as blacks became frustrated with economic conditions that did not improve despite advancements in civil rights. 

After graduating from college during the 1980s, the song was a push back to the establishment for me. While substantial gains were made through middle-class advancement and public employment, black poverty and lack of education continued.

As an adult, “Say It Loud, I Am Black, & I Am Proud” is an undeniable confirmation of my pride as a black person!

Carter G. Woodson, along with the organization he founded, the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), first conceived and announced Negro History Week in 1925. The event was first celebrated during a week in February 1926, encompassing Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass’s birthdays.

The celebration was expanded to a month in 1976, the nation’s bicentennial.  However, when you speak to Black people, our pride and history cannot be told in 28 or 29 days; we live every day making a difference and contributing to society in our own way.  I chose my career, and to make a difference in the Tourism and Hospitality Industry, think the movie “The Green Book” to know how bad it has been. 

While the industry still has a long Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion journey, my story concludes with a visit to the Penta Hotel in London with my mother and grandfather. The hotel featured a lobby and a lounge designed to encourage guests to spend leisure time.  During the 1980’s I traveled with my mother and her father often, three generations, sharing the love of travel; we visited Los Angeles, London, Paris and the Caribbean, my grandfather was a proud American Express member.  One day I awoke at 6:00 am and noticed my grandfather had left the room; we met him in the hotel lobby; he was sitting there watching people. 

He said, what a long way we have come, black people sitting in a hotel lobby enjoying the experience.  He added if this is your career, do more!

Now, I am Executive Director of Tourism Diversity Matters, a collaborative leader of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives and concepts that can address the blind spots of ethnic disparities and provide decision-makers in the tourism and events industry access, resources, and tactics to develop more effective Diversity & Inclusion strategies.

I will do more, “I Am Black, & I Am Proud”!

About Tourism Diversity Matters

Tourism Diversity Matters (TDM) is a 501 C (6) founded as the collaborative leader of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives and concepts that can address the blind spots of ethnic disparities and provide decision-makers in the tourism industry access, resources, and tactics to develop more effective Diversity & Inclusion strategies that will engage and retain a diverse workforce. At TDM, we focus on four primary pillars of activity to benefit the Tourism Industry: Apprenticeships, Workforce Development, Diversity Equity and Inclusion, Research and Data. TDM’s goal is to sustain and expand our platform by affiliating with fellow industry partners and notable research institutions, creating solutions that can be implemented, contributing to organizational success. Follow TDM @TDM_Matters on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter.