Reflecting on Black History Month at Upstart

By Tiffany Thompson and Miya Stewart 

Black History Month is not just a time to celebrate Black Americans who have paved the way for us all to thrive, it is also a time to consider how we can create more justice in our daily lives and institutions, including our work environments. It allows us to pause and reflect on our own biases, stereotypes, gaps in knowledge, and relationships across racial differences so that we can be leaders in our own communities where equity, inclusion, and social justice are at the forefront. 

We celebrate Black History Month to recognize the sacrifices, contributions, and achievements of African Americans in the United States and around the world. Our African American Employee Network, or AAEN, wanted to spend this Black History Month diving deeply into our true past to understand what is needed to create and envision a future of equality. Just like Amanda Gorman stated in her viral poem, we have to commit ourselves to “seeing the light and being the light.”

Upstart focused on creating a space for learning and connecting while celebrating our Black employees. This month’s agenda included daily Black History facts; an art show of music, paintings, cinema, and more; a panel of Upstart’s prominent African-American leaders and how they progressed throughout their careers; and Diversity and Inclusion consultant, Dr. Marlon Moore, joined us as a guest speaker.

Upstart Black History Month 2021 events

“I feel like all the events encapsulated what it means to be Black in business, art, personal life and at work,” said Erica Sallee, an Upstart Payments Associate. Her favorite event so far was the Art Show where she felt like everyone was able to be comfortable and shared their own art as well as artists that they love. Erica said, “The energy was phenomenal and has kept that same pace for all the events following the Art Show. I would definitely recommend doing this again next year!”

Consumer Compliance Manager and leader of AAEN, Marcos Roberson, says that this community “serves as a way for Upstarters of a similar demographic to share experiences, thoughts, and encouragement.” In addition, he believes that AAEN provides an opportunity to network and further develop as professionals to enhance Upstart.

Jess Miller, Upstart’s HR Business Partner, also had amazing things to say. AAEN (and all of our ERGs) are especially meaningful to her because it represents inclusiveness and a way for Upstarters to feel like they belong. She goes on to say that this type of support system is a way for employees to relate to each other, learn, and grow. “It’s good business for our Upstart employees to look like the people in communities we serve,” says Jess Miller. 

Miya Stewart, a Payments Associate, also discussed what she learned during this time. “As a non-Black member of AAEN, I appreciated the opportunity to participate in these events without taking up space. I was able to learn about a history that was never taught in school and it helped me develop new tools to live an anti-racist life.” Miya loved the Art Show and felt that it was an intimate event, full of learning, sharing, and growing with fellow employees. “The group got into deep discussions through artwork, film, and even music videos.”

Dr. Marlon Moore

Here’s a little about what we learned during Black History Month: Too few of us know about the work of Madam C.J. Walker, the first U.S. woman to become a self-made millionaire; George Washington Carver, who derived nearly 300 products from a peanut; Claudette Colvin and Rosa Parks, who sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott and galvanized the civil rights movement; or Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Too few of us have read the novels of Octavia Butler, the essays of James Baldwin, the poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks, or the plays of August Wilson. Too few of us know of the mathematical genius of Majorie Lee Browne and Katherine Johnson or the scientific contributions of Joseph Graves and George Carruthers.

Last year we saw Black Lives Matter take center stage, sparking conversations about the treatment of Black lives around the world. Companies knew they had to reprioritize and rethink their approach to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, with many unsure of what to do or where to even begin. Upstart not only revamped its Diversity and Inclusion strategy, but it also put an emphasis on Black History Month and created a safe space of learning and accountability. 

Columbus Upstarters presenting for Black History Month in 2020

 

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