Staff Voice: What Does Black History Month Mean to You?
Posted by Jennifer Haberman in Blog / Diversity, Equity and Inclusion on February 27, 2023
Black History Month is a time to celebrate the perspectives and experiences of our Black and African American community members. Today we celebrate this month by lifting the voice and sharing the perspective of staff member Denise LeMar, Director of Human Resources here at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Puget Sound.
Denise, Director of Human Resources
Interview with Denise
A lot of our staff are transplants to this region, are you a local or from somewhere else? I have been here a long time, but I’m originally from Boston, where I was born. I relocated in August of 1991.
How long have you worked at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Puget Sound? I celebrated 2 years on February 8th!
Where were you working before? HR is the only profession I’ve had. I had been laid off from a property management company before the pandemic. More recently I was working on a project at Puget Sound Educational Service District. They were transiting to a new benefits program. They had 350 employees and some were unionized. The union employees had to be set up in the system first. So I helped set up the pilot, the communications, and created a website with information on how to use the system. I was there for open enrollment, helping people upload documents, etc. They had people in different locations so I had to travel around and give staff presentations. I also helped prepare them for the culture shift to a new way of accessing the benefits program.
What’s your favorite part of what you do here at BBBSPS? There’s not just one thing. The people are the first thing. I’ve never worked at a company this small – sometimes it feels like family. The second thing is my job. The startup state of the HR department has let me utilize the full range of my skills in a way I wouldn’t have in a more established footprint. I’ve enjoyed working with Alonda; working with a manager you enjoy makes a big difference in your job. I’m doing work I haven’t done in other places. I’m a life-long learner so I’m learning new things in some areas. It feels good to make a difference and know I’m appreciated.
What’s your favorite thing to do outside of work? First and foremost is spending time with family. I like going to the movies, museums, plays and music venues that play Jazz. For hobbies I like to do crafts (paper crafts, sewing, jewelry making/beading) and photography. I like to travel. My husband and I play board games and like to try new restaurants. I also read – I’m a member of a book club.
What are you most excited about for the future at BBBSPS? I’m excited about growing the number of youth and families we serve by moving toward operational excellence. We’re working hard to improve our systems and how we accomplish our work; engaging the board even more closely in what we do through the executive committees, and the JEDI work we’re doing is very exciting. We’re focused on fully integrating JEDI in everything we do, and implementing the recommendations from the organization assessments we just had done. We’re also making a lot of improvements in the benefits, training and development opportunities we offer employees.
What does Black History Month mean to you? I made a list!
- For one it’s reflecting on the contributions of Black people in America and the industrial society in the US. It’s primarily because of the distasteful history of slavery that this information is not shared in schools – it’s not part of the educational curriculum. The curriculum is a bit jaded, to be honest. So, having Black History Month creates an appropriate and safe place to talk about these things – especially in schools.
- The second thing on my list is remembering the suffering and the history of how Black people came to be in America, forcibly removed from their African home lands to be enslaved for economic gain. It’s also a time to remember some of our iconic civil rights leaders and the struggles they went through in order for us to have some of the freedoms and rights we have today. We owe these leaders a lot of gratitude. Slavery and the fight to keep black people enslaved during those formative years are uncomfortable topics but it’s real history. Without Black History Month none of this would be talked about openly. It’s easy to keep the tragic things away and encourage people to leave the past in the past and not talk about it.
- Next on my list is passing on the history to younger generations so it is not forgotten. As some other cultures pass on traditions and share personal family history, some Black families aren’t good about sharing history with their children and may not have established cultural traditions. Our families often don’t talk about the things they went through because they are very painful memories. We don’t want painful family experiences and events to be forgotten because it’s part of our family history to be shared with future generations. Celebrating Black history month provides an opportunity to open the door for more heritage conversations within Black families.
- Another big one is celebrating the achievements of Black people despite the oppression we’ve experienced throughout history. Seeing pieces of art made by Black people, having some of the big companies featuring products made by Black people, Amazon prime and Hulu highlighting films directed by or about Black people and the various Black award shows are a way to do this.
Putting a spotlight on all of these things is the meaning of Black History Month to me and why I think it’s so important.