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Black History Month: The call to remove our “idle hands” as we move to celebrate innovation and change

Paula White-Jennings , Log in to subscribe to the Blog

At Pega, we make sure that we take the time to celebrate Black History Month by recognizing not only the experiences of Black African Americans but also shining a light on adversities that we face both today and yesterday. This month acknowledges the historical pain and injustices of the Black community throughout all periods of U.S. history. But if we want to better understand our present and what our future potentially can be, well, we need to stop and look at our history.

Growing up, I was surrounded by such beautiful Black culture. But outside of our standard February Black History Month (BHM) school curriculum, I didn’t know much about our history. As a child and student, I knew that Black American history had a foundation of pain and suffering, but I couldn’t tell you anything outside of the Big 6 – which I’m sure already has you thinking of the big names that we always talk about during BHM. It wasn’t until I got to undergrad that I was able to learn more, about not only our history but how decisions from the past affected the present moment. Racial attacks were happening on campus, and close friends and campus colleagues were having racial slurs written on their dorm room doors. This was all happening in 2011–2015 - not the “past” that we’ve read so much about. The past was my present, just in trendy clothes.

“Growing up, I wished for a dedicated reminder of the important role of Black history in our society. I believe that having this reminder would have had a profoundly positive influence on my development and view of the world. For this reason, it has become a meaningful and cherished observance for me. When I take the time to observe the diverse youth of today, Black History Month is a powerful reminder of the importance of continued education and understanding to help navigate the biased views of what greatness and positivity look like. Its presence and resonance are vital to moving forward.”

I was a Communication major because I always knew Marketing was going to be my end goal. But when you feel guilty for not knowing history outside of what is labeled “American history,” which cuts out a big chunk of its horrid past – and then only chooses to cover it over a span of 28–29 days in February as the only history of its Black African American citizens – it makes you want to do something. So I became a Sociology minor and made it my goal to not only learn about my history but learn how those past decisions affect not only our present here in America, but how colorism permeates across the globe. I’ve never considered myself an educator, in fact, I want to always be a student, but I feel that my duty lies in the efforts of maintaining transparency and connectedness, as that is the only way to really see history for what it is.

When I joined Pega in 2019, we didn’t have Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) that were as clearly defined as we have today, and I’m proud of that progress. For 2023, we at Black@Pega have designed a variety of events during Black History Month with a theme of "Celebrating Innovation," which includes a company-wide kickoff celebration, a slew of internal weekly activities, and a closing ceremony that will be open to the public (invitation/registration required – stay tuned!).

At Pega, we strive to create an environment where everyone can experience a collective sense of belonging and feel valued for their individual attributes. Recognizing and celebrating all employees’ racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds is essential to building psychological safety and employee engagement. Our Black@Pega ERG is a vibrant global collection of more than 200 employees, including allies to the Black community. This ERG not only serves our employees, but also works toward developing the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills of the next generation.

I hope to inspire readers to take this Black History Month as an opportunity to spread your spectrum of knowledge – don’t let it start and end in February. So, I’ll leave you with this. You don’t know what you don’t know and that’s sometimes ok. But we cannot live in fear of facing terrible truths. We must embrace and accept that our history is made up of a collection of both prideful and terrible moments. Our present will always be made up of mistakes as we try to learn from our past. But our future is always a new day, and we have the power to at least change what tomorrow brings. An old saying says, “idle hands are the devil’s playthings,” which roughly translates into, “doing nothing leads to mischief.” There’s a reason that even being an idle bystander can lead to terrible outcomes. So, get uncomfortable, learn something new, and figure out how you can be an agent of change in your own small way.

About the Author

Paula White-Jennings, is a creatively-driven and organized professional brand marketer with experience in marketing and brand strategy alike. Paula is also the producer of Pega’s successful podcast, “Bold stories. Future focused.” Maintaining her passion for being a change agent, Paula is a founding member of the Black@Pega Employee Resource Group and has spent the past year and a half building out their social impact footprint within the surrounding communities.

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