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Meet Deborah Smith: Senior Manager, Human Resources

"I am so proud of my black culture and how it is embedded in the history of this America. I hope that as a people, in a nation that continues to grow more and more diverse, our thinking and acceptance also evolves.  A dear friend of mine said that 'anything in history affects the present, so why wouldn’t black history!'"

    Meet Deborah Smith, Senior Manager, Human Resources. Deborah shares her personal views, as she reflects and acknowledges the importance of Black History month to herself, her family, and the American people.

     

      Black History IS American History

      People tend to think of black history as past events – slavery, the civil rights movement, MLK Jr., Rosa Parks, and other monumental figures and events. However, it’s important to note that black history is not just past events that are reminisced in a given month but a culmination of the life experiences that a black person goes through every day.  Black history is constantly being made — past, present, and future.

      The events of 2020 — George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and all too many others—moved me from my place and space of hopefulness to a place of fear, uncertainty, and exhaustion.  As a child of the ‘60s, it took me back in time.

      Black History is more than a month, It Is My Life

      As a child of the ‘60s, I experienced life-shaping events such as sitting in the classroom at school when the chapter on “black history” was being taught, with all eyes focused on me, hoping to become invisible for fear of what people were thinking. This feeling of being singled out felt more like punishment rather than learning a lesson; having to sit in an audience feeling like I was surrounded by thousands of people who didn’t look like me, who were laughing at what was taking place on the school stage. People in black face performing caricatures of my culture, which I would later learn was a minstrel show; the trauma of school integration and busing; witnessing my brother being choked until he lost consciousness and no one helping him; helplessness, anger, and sadness at that moment — all were life-changing moments that built upon my black history. 

      This was so far removed from the environment in which I was raised.  A neighborhood mostly of black families, where people cared for and about one another.  We affectionally referred to this place as the “Village.” I grew up with an idyllic American family — a dad, mom, five children, dogs — in a home owned by my blue-collar, working-class parents. In the place known as the “Village,” whether family or friend, we were all there for one another, held together by our faith, family, and the promise of the American Dream. So, being thrust into racist and unsafe situations made me understand the struggle of our ancestors, but more importantly, learning from our ancestors who survived with so much against them, and who persevered having so little.  This is where my family and beliefs became so important. 

      Growing up, I thought my family and I had achieved the American Dream. But with the unfolding of the events of 2020, the 2021 insurrection on the U.S. Capitol, and the systemic racism in America, it made me question ‘what exactly is the “American Dream?’” Is it different for a black person in America? And if so, why?  This keeps me up at night as I think about my three children who I raised to pursue the American Dream — through education, volunteerism, and commitment to God, self, and others. Through their hard work and perseverance, and the grace of God, they are all successful — a doctor, a private equity professional, and an engineer. I am so proud of them, but I am equally frightened for them, not knowing what this America has for them. 

      Exhaustion is in the DNA of being black in America. As much as you believe you’ve done all that you can do, it rears itself in ways that simply exhaust you:

      • The constant need to be on 100% of the time — having to produce at 175 percent just to hit the 100 percent threshold to be considered a player in the game... Exhausting 
      • Being the go-to voice for the entire black community to all your non-black friends, co-workers, acquaintances, etc... Exhausting 
      • The lack of integration of the full Black Experience in our educational system. We are more than our beginning as slaves; we are woven into the fabric of this country. The country was built on the backs of my forefathers and foremothers, “Free of Charge”... Exhausting
      • Having to think about how I style my hair — just to be accepted — I just want to be me and not have anyone care... Exhausting
      • Where am I going to live, and will I be accepted in that area because of who I am? Will my children thrive or barely survive?... Exhausting

      I am so proud of my black culture and how it is embedded in the history of this America. I hope that as a people, in a nation that continues to grow more and more diverse, our thinking and acceptance also evolves.  A dear friend of mine said that “anything in history affects the present, so why wouldn’t black history!” 

      As we progress through the month of February that is dedicated to Black History, I impress upon you to remember that it is more than a month. Black History IS American History, and made up of individual lives and our journeys from the past, present and future. Continue to learn about, understand, discuss and grow from not only black culture, but also the various cultures that have built our history.

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