Honoring Black History Month may look and feel a lot different this year amid the coronavirus pandemic. But there are still plenty of ways to celebrate.
Across the country, organizations are providing safe ways for people to commemorate the month virtually.
Here’s a look at five ways you can partake in honoring the month without leaving your home.
Participate in online events
Throughout the month of February, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) is launching virtual events and conversations that affirm and preserve the accomplishments of African Americans throughout history. Events are free and open to all – but registration is required.
“Understanding the African American lens on American history demonstrates the resilience of the African American community,” Deirdre Cross, NMAAHC’s director of public programs, told CNN.
“People have struggled for their place in this democracy. It shows how there are historic issues of contemporary importance. Our generation is able to pick up its part in making this really a more perfect union for American communities at large.”
The museum’s signature event features acclaimed authors Ibram X. Kendi, who wrote the bestseller “How to be an Antiracist,” and Keisha Blain, author of “Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom.”
The authors teamed up for their latest work, “Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619–2019.”
They will present their book in a museum-sponsored discussion titled “Historically speaking: 400 Souls—A Conversation with Ibram Kendi and Keisha N. Blain.”
The conversation will trace US history through the perspective of African Americans. It will follow their 400-year journey in the United States, highlighting historical time frames including slavery, the Civil War, reconstruction, Jim Crow segregation and the fight for civil rights, Cross said.
It will also cover African American culture and its vast influence on American music and art.
Later this month, the museum will also hold a virtual event that discusses the economic impact of Covid-19 and the history of public health for African Americans.
For those attempting to understand their genealogy and uncover the lives of enslaved ancestors, NMAAHC is also offering tips and best practices to help African Americans navigate court and probate records in search of relatives who lived prior to the Civil War.
Cross said NMAAHC has enlisted the help of a certified genealogical lecturer who can “break through this information barrier” to help make searching through dated documents, like probate and estate records, easier.
The museum has also put together children’s programs including at-home creative kits so kids can participate in weekly virtual workshops entitled, “Joyful Fridays.” The art series is dedicated to the celebration of “Black joy, history, and culture.”
“It is a comprehensive effort to discuss all of the ways that African Americans have contributed to the history and culture of the United States,” Cross said.
Become a bone marrow donor
Backdropped by a global pandemic, Black History Month 2021 presents unique opportunities to respond to public health disparities faced by African American communities.
The BeTheMatch Foundation is in dire need of African American bone marrow donors to help sustain life for people facing blood cancers and disorders like sickle cell disease. According to the foundation, Black individuals are the least likely to find a suitable match because they only make up 4 percent of the foundation’s registry of more than 22 million donors. Currently, African American patients only have a 23% chance of finding a match. It’s even lower for multiracial patients.
“In line with our commitment to serve our patients in providing equal outcomes for all, we are trying to remove every barrier to donation,” Kate McDermott of BeTheMatch says.
The foundation will cover all related expenses to make donations possible. For example, BeTheMatch will pay for a donor’s child care costs, lost wages, and travel.
“By 2023 we would like to double the number of lives saved in underserved populations—with no discernable difference in outcomes. So, patients who have undergone transplants are living a healthy life post-transplant with very little complications.” McDermott explains.
Celebrate through song
In honor of Black History Month, the Chicago Children’s Choir will host its annual Black History Month Concert—virtually. The choir showcases the talents of young people from every zip code in Chicago. From home, virtual concertgoers can tune in to a pre-produced show themed “Preserving and Persevering.” Selected music pieces celebrate Black culture, explore how music preserves African traditions while inspiring hope and perseverance across centuries of injustice.
The production will feature many genres including gospel and jazz. Choral arrangements will include classic hymns and anthems like “Lift Every Voice” and “We Shall Overcome.” And Grammy-winning quintet Ranky Tanky, whose songs preserves Gullah culture is also scheduled to perform.
The young choir members are currently preparing for their big debut. Josephine Lee, the choir’s president and artistic director says hope through song is needed now more than ever.
“We have all been through a very traumatic experience together. We have been isolated. Humans need that comfort, that love, the human touch—and especially children,” Lee tells CNN. “Music is this universal language that allows us to celebrate our shared humanity.”
The livestream will include preproduced performances and at-home footage of the young choir stars filming themselves. The national event is free and will livestream on the choir’s Facebook and YouTube pages in addition to their website on February 25th at 7pm CST (8 pm EST).
“CCC is not about making them professional musicians. It’s really about creating global ambassadors and learning how to become an ambassador for your community and standing up for good—It is a unifying force.”
And children interested in learning more about music can join the Chicago Community Choir’s online musical enrichment classes here.
Take virtual field trips
With many museums shuttered due to Covid, Black History museums across the US are unable to welcome guests or program as in years past, pushing many galleries to go digital. Without having to stand in line or scramble for tickets, Black art connoisseurs can visit galleries from home. Using 360 street view technology, Google Arts and Culture allows for gallery goers to take a virtual field trip and enjoy online experiences through more than 80 partner institutions. Among the featured exhibits are the Civil Rights Movement Exhibit; Fredrick Douglass—from Slavery to Freedom: The Journey to New York, and Kansas City Jazz. Google Arts and Culture also offers African American Art from the Hewitt Collection.
“It is important to expose the world to every community and every type of culture…Every person contributes to culture and community and art,” Andrea Willis, of Google Arts and Culture tells CNN.
“And Black artists have contributed so much to culture and history both in modern times and in the past. They continue to be influences in this space. You can’t have a conversation about culture and art without talking about the contributions of Black people and Black artists,” she explains.
Google Arts and Culture says it offers more the 10,000 images, 200 carefully curated stories, and more than 500 videos related to Black history, arts, and culture. All exhibits are free of charge and can be accessed with the swipe of a smartphone or on a desktop.
“The mission of Google Arts and Culture is twofold: one is to ensure that art and culture is accessible to anyone, anywhere around the world. That was our mission before Covid-19.”
The other part of Google’s mission is to help cultural organizations share and preserve their content online.
Invest in Black businesses
An estimated 40 percent of Black business owners had already closed their doors between February and April of 2020. This number is twice the decline experienced by White business owners.
As economic ripple effects from the pandemic persist, Black History Month this year presents a timely opportunity to respond to the economic disparities experienced by African American businesses.
Services like Brava help connect hungry patrons to Black-owned restaurants in their area. Patrons can sign up for the monthly subscription service to receive pre-purchased, digital gift cards that can be redeemed within local Black food and beverage spots. Currently Brava is offered in New York and San Francisco. But, in honor of Black History Month, Brava will launch in its third city, Los Angeles. In 2021, the service plans to expand its offerings to include retail and other industries.
“There is a clear inequity in the market and it’s really up to us as a community to right the failures of our own economic institutions,” Ifi Akpandak CEO of Brava tells CNN.
By frontloading the purchasing power of its monthly subscribers, Brava’s Black businesses are better financially equipped to bypass bank loans. Akpandak explains that Black businesses often have unequal access to banking and lending institutions. Black businesses are also shown to get less favorable rates with similar credit scores.
But by providing capital upfront to Black business owners, Akpandak says his service is similar to a short-term loan product, without interest rates. And it’s a win-win for everyone involved. Subscribers get great food—while businesses take away “predictable revenues and early cashflows.”
With a background as a Goldman Sachs trader and software engineer, Akpandak says his product helps Black business owners invest in themselves and their communities.
“Our system is clearly failing a segment of our small businesses and we have the power, without really doing too much. By just changing where you eat a couple times a month, we have the power to correct some of the failures of our economic institutions.”
Those outside of Brava’s reach can still do their part. A simple online search of Black businesses, paired with a purchase, preserves the footprint of Black culture in communities—while further making it available for future generations to come.