How many traffic lights did you stop at going to the grocery store this week? Do you have a Ring doorbell or some other home security system? Have you or your children played with a Super Soaker? These devices are a part of our everyday lives, but did you know they were all invented by Black men and women?
Since 1970, Black History Month has been celebrated in our country. In watching Vice President Kamala Harris take the oath to be sworn in as our first Black vice president and seeing images of little black and brown girls standing in front of the TV with their hands raised to take the same oath, it reminded me of why celebrating Black History Month is still important.
As a child of the '60s and '70s, there weren’t many people of color to celebrate. Recently, I was watching footage of old interviews with Martin Luther King Jr. and it struck me how “suspicious” the interviewers were of the movement. The FBI spied on him because he was viewed as a threat, not sure why, but he was. When watching the armed demonstrations earlier this year at the Michigan State Capitol, I was reminded of when the armed Black Panthers in 1967 did the same at the California Capitol, afterwards the Mulford Act was passed (unofficially called the Black Panther Bill) with the support of the National Rifle Association to basically declare that 2nd Amendment rights didn’t apply to Blacks.
One of my favorite Stevie Wonder songs is "Black Man." Although that’s the title of the song, the lyrics share that inventions/contributions to society were made up of all people (black, yellow, white, brown men/women). An important line says, “This world was made for all men.”
"All people; All babies; All children; All colors; All races; This worlds for you; And me; This world; My world; Your world; Everybody’s world; This world; Their world; Our world; This world was made for all men."
The events over these last few years have been challenging for us as a Nation, but they have also brought racial injustice and inequality back to the forefront of our conversations. I believe it is through those conversations that meaningful change can occur. This includes conversations around Equity 2030, which encourages us to use an equity-minded lens in our work, whether in developing academic programs or in hiring practices. At Rochester Community and Technical College, our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Strategic Committee work includes analyzing our policies and procedures to identify barriers for our underrepresented students. All important work to bring about change. In our personal lives, I believe it is as simple as following the Golden Rules. Treat others the way you want to be treated and love your neighbor as yourself. The world is made for all of us, let’s enjoy it together, embracing our differences.
And, even though we are still traveling down a road of division, we must realize we’re too good of a nation to allow such injustices to continue. As a dad and grandfather, I want my kids and grandkids to believe they can do anything they set their minds to, even invent a new gadget that becomes part of our everyday lives. We must not only dream for a better tomorrow but take action to make it happen. It won’t be easy, but nothing worth doing right ever is. In the words of Rosa Parks, “You must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right.”
Dr. Jeffery S. Boyd is the President of Rochester Community and Technical College. Born and raised in a suburb of Chicago, President Boyd is a first-generation community college graduate who began his public service as a police officer before transitioning into higher education.