The origins of Black History Month go back to 1915 and came 60 years after the passage of the 13 Amendment, which abolished slavery in America.
It was championed by the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, which focused its efforts on researching and highlighting the achievements of African Americans and people of African descent. The organization, which had been founded by Carter G. Woodson and Minister Jesse E. Morland, sponsored a National Negro History Week in February. The event coincided with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, who are both celebrated by the Black community.
Being the first of its kind, National Negro History Week inspired schools, communities, and even local celebrities to get involved and stand behind the initiative. Over the next several years, cities across the United States began to recognize the week, and eventually it led to the development of Black History Month. In 1976, President Gerald Ford encouraged the country to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
With this in mind, the hospitality health and wellness organization Focus On Health, which I co-founded, has created an initiative called Fill in the Gaps, which runs throughout February.
The program spotlights the history, hardships, and accomplishments of African Americans in the hospitality industry. We are offering virtual programming geared toward the bartending and service community, including panel discussions, classes, a book club, and a writing workshop.
We have also partnered with Speed Rack Academy to offer a digital series of classes taught by top bartenders from across the country, including Ella Louise Bailey, Mimi Evans, Alisha Kaye Neverson, Kapri Robinson, and J’Nai Williams. Topics range from the history of Black mixology to Black culture and its influence on cocktails. All of the classes are free to attend, but those who can donate are encouraged to do so as all proceeds will directly benefit The Pink Agenda and its breast cancer awareness campaign.
Plus, each week Fill in the Gaps will host a panel featuring leading industry experts such as Lynn House, Tiffanie Barriere, Tracie Franklin, and Vance Henderson, as well as a special appearance by James Beard Award-winning food scholar Adrian E. Miller.
Additional offerings for the month include a Sunday evening book club featuring Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race?, a writing workshop, an open forum on body image led by psychologist and relationship adviser Dr. Jennelle, and an Instagram Live with graphic designer Kisira Hill, who created all of the graphics for the Fill in the Gaps programming.
You can also purchase a curated Fill in the Gaps Wellness Box, which features thoughtful gifts by Black artists and creators in honor of Black History Month. Plus, there is a month-long digital auction, including virtual experiences, private cocktail classes, and more, to raise money and awareness for Black-owned charities and organizations.