Each February, the nation and the American Red Cross celebrate Black History Month. All this month here on the Red Cross Philly blog we honor our Black colleagues that are part of our local Red Cross team. We invited them to be guest bloggers to share their thoughts and stories as proud Red Crossers that make up our diverse team here in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Please note, the views expressed in this blog post are of the author and not necessarily those of the American Red Cross. To learn more about Diversity and Inclusion values at the Red Cross, please visit https://www.redcross.org/about-us/who-we-are/governance/corporate-diversity.html.
Today’s blog is written by LaValle Warren, Sickle Cell Account Manager, Donor Recruitment, American Red Cross.
If you ask me on any given day, I will tell you that I am Black history 365 days a year. Black history is my everyday life! Supporting Black-owned businesses and donating to and supporting Black organizations are at the core of my experience. I attended a Historic Black College and University (HBCU), and throughout my life, I’ve actively championed for Black voting rights, equality, diversity and inclusion. Either via financial donations, volunteering or consulting with Black companies, I’ve always been about learning and contributing to the Black experience. Living Black history is an ongoing process for me.
Black History Month should be celebrated beyond the month of February. This way, people can continuously learn about the important roles that African Americans have played in the development of the United States, starting in 1619 when enslaved African people were captured and brought to these shores. I often wonder why we’re not incorporating Black history information into our curriculum more. In fact, we should be taught about all immigrants who comprise our nation. This knowledge would make us more sensitive, respectful of one another and more conscious of our commonalities, rather than focusing on our cultural and racial differences.
At the American Red Cross, I am very impressed that we have several initiatives that support ongoing diversity awareness in our company. The Diversity & Inclusion Committee, as well as The Umoja Committee, are open to all Red Crossers. As a member of both committees, I firmly believe that the mission of these entities increases awareness about African American’s legacy and highlights the importance of diversifying our workplace.
If we knew more about Black her/history, we would be aware of the significant contributions made by millions of enslaved individuals who provided free labor for hundreds of years to the very institutions and infrastructure of America. Even though I know many things about the contributions of my race, I saw a comment that former First Lady Michelle Obama made in her primetime televised address to the 2016 Democratic National Convention about how proud she was to have resided in the White House, saying, “I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves.”
Some people were deeply offended by her remark, but in truth, African American enslaved and free people provided the bulk of labor that built the White House, the United States Capitol and other government buildings. This little-known historical fact among countless others illustrates how little is taught to us during our education. Perhaps if other groups of people were aware of the significant contributions made by people of color, it would increase respect and reduce racism and discrimination. This is what Black History Month means to me, honoring the achievements made by African Americans.
I’m so proud of past and present historic individuals, such as Vice President Kamala Harris; NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, who helped calculate the trajectories for astronauts to get the moon; noted heavyweight world boxing champion Muhammad Ali; contralto and the first African American to perform with the New York Metropolitan Opera in 1955 Marian Anderson; successful writer James Baldwin; civil rights crusader Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; actress/author, Maya Angelou; Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman; self-made billionaire media mogul Oprah Winfrey; Grammy Award-winning producer/songwriters and architects of the Sound of Philadelphia, Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff; Urban One Founder Cathy Hughes; activist Octavius Catto, who challenged discrimination in Philadelphia; the first Black Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall; Civil Rights advocate Rosa Park, who helped kick off the civil right movement; and reigning entertainment royalty Beyonce.
These are just a handful of African Americans whose contributions to domestic and global culture are worthy of study, recognition and celebration in our society. In fact, closer to home for us in the American Red Cross, it is significant to know that Dr. Charles Drew, considered by many to be the father of blood banks, was an African American physician who developed ways to process and store blood plasma.
My current role at the American Red Cross as Sickle Cell Account Manager allows me to stand on the shoulders of Dr. Drew’s discoveries and legacy. I’m elated to represent our efforts within the Black community and connect with living African American leaders in churches, schools, civic organizations, corporations and the overall community. During February, Black History Month, and every month of the year, I will work diligently to uplift and educate the community about how the Red Cross blood collections operates. As I proudly represent, I proclaim that Black history is ME, and Black history is an ongoing consequential part of American history.
Main image description: Photo of LaValle Warren