Black History Month More Important than Ever: ‘It’s Time to Start Contextualizing History’

By Desiree Lindsay, Treehouse Marketing & Communications Consultant

Stefani Coverson and her mother, Arti Coverson, at a Seattle Mariners game

The theme of Black History Month throughout February is “The Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity.” This year’s theme was selected by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH).

As one of Treehouse’s executive leaders and a Black woman, Stefani Coverson, Chief People and Equity Strategy Officer, was raised by a family with many generations dedicated to empowerment, diversity and inclusion.

“Being in a field like diversity, equity, inclusion and justice (DEIJ) wouldn’t have been on my radar had my mother not taught and raised me as she did,” Stefani said.

The Strengths of Generational Empowerment

Arti Coverson, Stefani’s mother, worked for a large telecommunications company for several decades. Eventually, in the last ten years of her career, she began facilitating and hosting company-wide diversity trainings (or “pluralism training” as it was known at the time) to more than 72,000 employees in 14 states.

This was the first initiation of commitment to change for the company and one of the first for any large company. Running trainings and multi-day workshops as a Black woman exploring racial bias and challenging norms within organizations certainly posed its own set of challenges for both Arti and her fellow colleagues.

Arti recalled one incident which remains vivid all these years later. She had just finished giving a presentation to employees of another large organization and was leaving the podium when she was greeted by two white women who applauded her for her ability to communicate in such an “articulate” manner and further, commented that they didn’t see her color.

“You cannot say when you see me, ‘I don’t see color.’ That’s the first thing you should see. I am a Black woman. Make no mistake,” Arti said.

Then she asked: “Now if I were a white woman, what would have been your comments to me?  Would you have told me that was an excellent presentation? I bet being ‘articulate’ would not have been a salient point.”

The women were initially shocked but after thinking about it momentarily, agreed and apologized. It was a learning moment for them.

Despite the difficult conversations and many other challenges, Arti knew how important this work was and remained committed to it.

“I had some hard roads, but my grandmother used to say to me: ‘Darling, always know the difference between a dime and a dollar fight.’ And to me, this was always a dollar fight,” Arti said.

“I stuck with it because of the way my mother raised me, the way my grandmother raised her and the way my great grandparents raised my grandmother,” Arti added. “We had to be strong. Whatever you firmly believed in, that’s what you stood behind. And that’s exactly how I raised my daughter.”

Moving Forward Through Education  

Stefani pointed out that many children are taught that Black history and African American contributions started and ended with slavery.

“There’s so much more Black history that’s been omitted,” Stefani said. “The U.S. was built on the backs of Black people and on the stolen lands of Indigenous people. However, this is rarely conveyed in such direct, straight-forward terms.”

The harm is then compounded by the erasure of Black and Indigenous people’s contributions to U.S. history and culture.

“From innovation and science to culture and arts—and even creating the foundations and designs of several U.S. cities—unfortunately, our many contributions are rarely taught in schools,” Stefani said. “That leaves children to believe a wholly incomplete and inaccurate version of both world and U.S. history.”

Identity and representation are at the heart of this year’s Black History Month and especially important in the context of whole-self-development for youth.

Stefani brings more than 20 years of professional experience in equity leadership to Treehouse, but her commitment to equity and representation all date back to her youth.

Stefani at age 6

“As a single parent, my mother would often bring me to evening functions like different corporate affinity events,” Stefani said. “I started learning about the strong need to see yourself within your community and thinking about what else I didn’t know about my own and others’ history.”

“I independently read and learned more about how Black folks played such a consequential role in history and to the contributions to U.S. society, and I really started to notice the absence of this representation in my classroom when I was in high school,” she added.

As a result, Stefani, along with a group of students of color, proposed creating a recognized multicultural student group to the school principal, eventually leading to the school’s creation of their first affinity group, the “Minority Student Union.

“What you learn in school, in your community and even in your household, shapes how you grow and how you see yourself as a child,” Stefani said.

She brings this energy and passion into her work spearheading Treehouse’s commitment to becoming an anti-racist and multicultural organization. Because of systemic racism, youth of color are disproportionately represented in the foster care system. They’re extremely vulnerable through no fault of their own.

Stefani is optimistic for the future but knows there’s still much more work to be done—particularly for accurate representation throughout history.

Less than a year after George Floyd’s murder and the accompanying worldwide civil rights protests, Stefani emphasized how important it is to accurately portray history.

“A lot of people have remembered—or were taught—Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was highly respected and beloved by everyone during the civil rights era, but he was in-fact not beloved by all,” Stefani said. “He was feared and seen as a grave threat to U.S culture and way of life.”

The FBI aimed to “neutralize” Dr. King as a threat and considered the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) a “Black Nationalist Hate Group.”

At the height of the Civil Rights Movement in 1968, Dr. King had a whopping public disapproval rate of 75%.

Stefani sees many parallels between the characterizations of Dr. King’s political activism, organized protests, and economic boycotts during the Civil Rights Movement and the criticism of present-day protests, advocacy and demands for racial equity and social justice.

“Institutional and systemic racism is so intertwined in our U.S. story that at times protesting discrimination and bigotry has been conflated with being ‘un-American’ or hating our country,” she said. “This is why this year’s Black History Month is more important than ever. It’s time to start contextualizing this. We need to create a multi-cultural, anti-racist framework for teaching history and incorporate this into our education.”

“It’s not just Black history, it’s U.S. history. It’s not just U.S. history, it’s the world’s history,” she added. “We all belong and we’re all a part of the fabric of this country—as well as global citizens. It is past time for the storytellers of history and education to reflect this.”

One of Stefani’s favorite quotes

Subscribe to Our Blog

About the Author

Desiree Lindsay is the Marketing and Communications Consultant at Treehouse, where she elevates the voices and experiences of the youth we serve.

Leave a Comment