February 1 commences a month-long celebration of Black History Month – an annual observance honoring African Americans’ immeasurable contributions to American history while also recognizing their struggles with adversity and inequality.
As we continue uplifting Black life, voices, history, and impactful moments and leaders who have helped to build this nation and pave the way for future leaders, Black History Month is also an opportunity to connect with current leaders who continue the efforts of moving our cities, towns, and villages towards equality and taking significant strides towards building a diverse and inclusive culture.
Inspired by past Black pioneers and trailblazers, like Walter Washington, the first African American mayor of a major American city, we asked Board Members of NLC’s National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials (NBC-LEO) Constituency Group to share their reflections on Black History, including what this month means to them, how their city plans to celebrate, and how Dr. King’s iconic I Have a Dream speech has inspired them 60 years later.
Thank you to all the members that participated and provided responses, including:
- NBC-LEO President, Councilmember Aaron Banks, Office of Ward 6, Jackson, MS
- NBC-LEO Regional Director, Region 15 (AL) Wardine T Alexander, Council President, Birmingham, AL
- NBC-LEO Regional Director, Region 2 (PA, NY, NJ) Councilmember LaShay D Harris, Rochester, NY
- NBC-LEO, Second Vice President, Mayor Derrick R. Wood, Dumfries, VA
- NBC-LEO Regional Director, Region 19(FL), Daniela Jean, Commissioner, North Miami Beach, FL
- NBC-LEO, Regional Director, Region 6 (IL), Mayor Katrina R. Thompson, Broadview, IL
- NBC-LEO Regional Director, Region 8 (MO, IA, NE, KS, CO), Councilwoman Ryana Parks-Shaw, 5th District, Kansas City, MO
- NBC-LEO, At-Large Director, Councilmember Stephanie Moon Reynolds, Roanoke, VA
- NBC-LEO Regional Director, Region 12 (AR, TN), Councilmember D’Andre L. Jones MA, MSW, Fayetteville, AR
- NBC-LEO Regional Director, Region Region 18 (NC), Dr. Monique Holsey- Hyman EdD, MSW, LCSW-R, Durham, NC
- NBC-LEO Assistant Secretary Amber Sellers, City Commissioner, Lawrence, KS
We invite you to explore their responses below.
How Does Your City, Town or Village Plan to Celebrate Black History Month?
Councilmember Aaron Banks: Here in the Capitol City of Mississippi, Jackson, we will celebrate Black History Month by encouraging citizens, visitors, and tourists to celebrate Black Excellence. Jackson, Mississippi has a rich heritage of soul food and good eating. During Black History Month, we promote the visitation of our black-owned restaurants. From Johnny T’s, to Godfrey’s, to Suga’s Place, located in downtown Jackson, will be highlighted during this time.
Supporting Black Excellence also means supporting all black establishments. In Jackson, there is Marshall’s Music and Bookstore, Lavish Boutique, and a host of others. As we celebrate black excellence by supporting our black restaurants and businesses, it is important to uplift our history by visiting our black museums and sites of history. With the Civil Rights Museum, Smith Robertson Museum, and the National Monument of the home of slain Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers, Jackson has a rich heritage to celebrate.
Council President Wardine T. Alexander: Birmingham, AL, made history in 1963 with black residents holding sit-ins at white-only lunch counters to challenge Jim Crow laws. Black youth from area schools participated in what was known as the Children’s Crusade were arrested, with some attacked by fire hoses and police dogs, and on Sept. 15, 1963, a bomb planted by KKK in the 16th Street Baptist Church exploded, killing four young black girls.
Starting Black History Month 2023, the City of Birmingham plans to initiate a year-long program of activities to commemorate the 60th anniversary of those events that led to the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the beginning of the end of racial segregation in the south.
Councilmember LaShay D Harris: Our Black Heritage Committee organizes the Black History Events for the City of Rochester, which kicks off in February but spans through April. This year’s theme is Black Resistance: Powerful and Resilient. The celebrations will include a series of concerts and formal events celebrating Rochester’s youth, women, and Rochester’s pioneers. Most events are offered free to the community at large.
This year, The Rochester City Council will launch our inaugural social media campaign highlighting black businesses during Black History Month. This year we are focusing on Black Business Empowerment. I believe our communities will thrive when we are self-reliant. We thrive when we support our brothers and sisters. We thrive when we are a collective. We thrive knowing that our Black is prosperous, brilliant, and beautiful!
What Does Black History Month Mean to You?
Mayor Derrick Wood: It means it’s time to celebrate and acknowledge the contributions black people have made in the world. As we celebrate, we continue to tell our story and preserve important historical events and people that have shaped black culture and the black community.
Commissioner Daniela Jean: Black history month means sharing the rich experiences that make up the fabric of our lineage while elevating the currently our present-day narrative.
Mayor Katrina Thompson: Black History Month means the appreciation and acknowledgment of blackness and how it permeates all aspects of society. It’s a reminder that BLACK is love, and it has an undeniable unifying factor. Black History Month reaffirms the fact that I, a proud Black woman, have no excuse not to impact my community, this nation, and ultimately, the world.
Councilwoman Ryana Parks-Shaw: Black History Month is an opportunity for the nation to acknowledge and celebrate the impact that Black Americans have made and to pave the way for the future. Personally, it is a special time to pay homage to those who created the foundation of which I stand.
As a Local Black Elected, How Does Dr. King’s Iconic I Have a Dream Speech Inspire You 60 Years Later?
Councilmember Stephanie Moon Reynolds: Dr. Martin Luther King’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech inspires me even today because it taught me not to settle for mediocrity but to excel to the highest of heights. Some sixty years after Dr. King delivered that iconic speech, I continue to break through racial barriers, personal and professional, which has been a progression of achievements as follows:
- Attended an integrated elementary school at the age of nine while living with my grandparents in a poor coal mining town in McDowell County, West Virginia.
- Graduated from High School, with honors, despite becoming pregnant in my senior year.
- Became the first generation in my family line to graduate from college and did so with honors.
- Appointed by the Roanoke City Council as its first African American City Clerk/Clerk of Council and the first African American to serve in such a position in Southwest Virginia.
- First African American female elected to the Roanoke City Council as an “independent” candidate getting voter support from both democrats and republicans.
Even today, Dr. King’s ironic “Dream” speech drives me forward when my Black democratic colleagues continue to come against me because I am the lone Independent on the City Council who happens to be a former Council Appointed employee of the city.
His Dream speech makes me care more about those that I serve than I do about being popular. And, finally, Dr. King’s Dream speech reminds me of my royal standing as a child of the Most High God, Jehovah.
Councilmember D’Andre L. Jones: As a local Black Elected official, I have been so focused on the fight that I have forgotten to reflect on the love and intention behind why the work existed. Subsequently, Dr. King’s I Have A Dream inspires me to reflect on recommitting to love and to not be afraid to challenge the system. If we desire to achieve the dream, this is the time for us to color outside the lines, shy away from the status quo, change our minds, and change the world. In my role as a council member, I have found love as a north star; it is healthy to consider love in the work we do as community leaders and policymakers. Daily I remind myself that Spirit and change and love are inseparable — Dr. King walked in spirit first. Dr. King used love for humanity. Current events cry out to us for urgent action, demanding that we attend to racial injustice and that we rediscover and rebuild our common humanity.
Dr. Monique Holsey-Hyman: Love, Peace, Non-Violence Approach, Equality. Dr. King’s” I Have a Dream” speech has significantly influenced my role as the new North Carolina Regional Director for the NBC-LEO, an At-Large City Council Member for the City of Durham, and an Assistant Professor at NC Central University for Social Work. In many other roles, I’ve held as a social worker for 25-plus years. Dr. King’s speech expounded on the idea of equality amongst both Blacks and Whites, and he specifically centered his efforts around achieving the ultimate end goal using a non-violent approach.
I have reflected on my past and present professional journey and noted that Dr. King was devoted to results and consistently urged his counterparts to fight back with intelligence, words, and a peaceful way of life. I have always been a voice of reason, comfort, and solutions for my students, clients, and the community of Durham. I am passionate about many things, but I focus heavily on the incorporation of all people and the importance of equality in all areas, such as housing, education, environmental justice, and safer communities for Black, White, Hispanic, or indigenous people.
It is my goal to improve the lives of all people. I will continue to advocate, petition, and vote in favor of initiatives that will increase the services provided to those who cannot advocate for themselves.
I will continue to use my voice to spread awareness about the cost of living in Durham, the need for more resources, the increase in violence, and the need for mentoring youth. For as long as I have had the honor of serving the residents of Durham, I will always reflect on the practical approach Dr. King had 60 years ago and use it to enhance the future social work practitioners and political leaders of North Carolina.
City Commissioner Amber Sellers: Dr. King’s I Have a Dream speech reminds me that the work of a local elected, especially one who is Black, is never complete. Marian Wright Edelman once said, “Service is the rent we pay for being. It is the very purpose of life and not something you do in your spare time.” As a local Black Elected, I ensure that every constituent has a voice in the policies that impact their quality of life. While doing so, my faith, morals, and ethics remind me that I must do this by serving those in my community with the most need first. Dr. Kind said, “…we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.” Dr. King’s speech reminds me that, yes, we have come a mighty long way, but time does not stand still – we must continue the pursuit of liberty and justice for all. Transformational change requires transformational leadership, and his iconic speech is one of many tools that local Black Electeds must utilize to blaze new innovative policies and sustainable opportunities for this country. We stand on the shoulders of our ancestors, who before us broke, tilled, and nurtured the soil in preparation for us – their seeds. Dr. King’s speech was the watering the Black community needed so that we can unapologetically recognize blatant injustice without marginalizing the fruits of our labor in the movement. I stand today emboldened and committed to being a catalyst for change, as Dr. King did, until ”justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
Learn more about NLC’s National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials (NBC-LEO) Constituency Group and how you can become a member. Membership is complimentary to local elected officials from NLC member cities.