Tourism Diversity Matters Celebrates Black History Month

The Next Generation of Black Tourism and Hospitality Leaders

By: Greg DeShields Executive Director Tourism Diversity Matters

Let us be clear; Black History is every day carrying the impact of history and the promise of the future. However, February marks Black History Month, a time for African Americans to acknowledge critical figures from our past and present. It’s an opportunity to spotlight and celebrate African Americans’ achievements in this country, despite the history of racism and oppression. Black History Month allows us to challenge what we learned in history, dig deeper, and find out the actual events of the past that were not taught in schools. 

Black History Month reminds us of the gaps of ethnic disparities and social and economic inequalities in the Tourism and Hospitality industry and our need to remain committed to effect change. The hospitality, travel, and leisure sector has made great strides in increasing diversity and inclusion over the past couple of years despite some increases in Black, Asian, and minority representation at senior levels; a study by the Castell Project found that in 2022 Blacks still held only 1.8% of hospitality industry executive positions at director level or above.

During Black History Month, we acknowledge and respect those Black Tourism and Hospitality icons that have been pioneers and led the way for decades to achieve equity and inclusion in the industry. Here are a few whom we all stand on their shoulders, first my forever mentor, Valarie Ferguson, Sol, and Gloria Herbert, Robert L. Johnson, Sheila Johnson, Ernest P. Boger, CHA, FMP, CHE, Gerry Fernandez, Andy Ingraham, Roy Jay, Howard F. Mills, Ana Aponte Curtis, Cheryl Richards, Albert Tucker, Carol Wallace, Ahmeenah Young, Curtis Dean, Ernest Wooden Jr, and Hank Thomas.

I am sure you know an icon; please share their name with Tourism Diversity Matters to be recognized.

For me, Black History Month is an uplifting period. It feels like a powerful adrenaline shot of Black Culture, an authentic swell of verification of how Black culture has evolved over the years and influenced so many lives in every aspect of society. It is not just a culture; it is a state of being. Black culture has endured through the years, and we can only be thankful for the level of impact it has made and continues to make in our society.

Here’s a brief history, National Black History Month originated in 1915 when historian and author Dr. Carter G. Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. Through this organization, Dr. Woodson initiated the first Negro History Week in February 1926.

In 1975, President Ford issued a Message on the Observance of Black History Week, urging all Americans to “recognize the important contribution made to our nation’s life and culture by Black citizens.” In 1976, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History expanded this commemoration of Black history in the United States from a week-long observance to Black History Month.

In 1986, Congress passed Public Law 99-244, which designated February 1986 National Black History Month.

Since 1996, presidents have issued annual proclamations for National Black History Month.

In January 1996, President Clinton issued Presidential Proclamation 6863 External for National African American History Month. Since 1996, Congress has regularly passed resolutions honoring Black History Month. In February 1996, the Senate passed Senate Resolution 229 commemorating Black History Month and the contributions of Black American U.S. Senators.

Despite this, being Black in America today, we live in a time when the nation’s racial consciousness has been raised. Threats to democracy, voter suppression, economic vulnerability, gun violence, and inequity loom as a dark reality. So, as a Black American, you must go deep to find your way, carefully examining your conscious thoughts and feelings to find your state of mind. As we know, the Black community is not monolithic, and being Black is an essential sense of self and connection to the broader community.

Considering all, I remain optimistic and an advocate for the Next Generation of Black Hospitality Leaders. Who is the next Generation of Leaders? They are those stepping into or recommitting to their vision to be a Black leader right now amid organizational transformations, profound political shifts, and growing movements. For years of serving as an academic educator and counselor and personally providing scholarship support for aspiring leaders, there is a reason to be hopeful.

My hope for the next generation is that they will be empowered to explore their own identities and feel respected for their individuality in an environment that recognizes and embodies the fact that everyone is worthy of being heard. Their contributions are valued, and the community benefits from their support.

We must coach, mentor, and sponsor them, supporting their ability to be centered during organizational change and transition. As the Tourism and Hospitality industry rebounds, industry experts have worked tirelessly worldwide to adapt and innovate while offering their respective teams support, inspiration, and a clear vision for the future. But we need to nurture the Next Generation of young and visionary Black Hospitality Leaders who genuinely need and deserve an opportunity to shine within these roles and bring about real change in the industry.

Finally, the Tourism Diversity Matters team is committed to the Next Generation of Black Hospitality Tourism Leaders through our Apprenticeship Program. Providing hands-on working experience to diverse professionals interested in pursuing a career in the tourism and hospitality industry.

Enjoy all the discoveries during Black History Month. Still, as Black people, our pride and history cannot be told in 28 or 29 days – because we live every day making a difference and contributing to society significantly.