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Honoring the Past, Empowering the Future: Celebrating Black History Month

By Eastern's Black Professional Alliance, Jun. 13, 2024
Shown left to right standing together and smiling at the camera are Jason Solomon, Sujata Yadav, Trillet Robinson, Dr. Noelle Trent, Reverend Willie Bodrick II and Michael Holley

Eastern Bank’s Black Professional Alliance Employee Resource Group brought employees together for a panel discussion with local community leaders on Black History.

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Black history is American history. It serves as a reminder of the resilience, achievements and contributions of Black individuals throughout history, shaping our understanding of the present and inspiring hope for the future. By remembering the past and sharing stories, we honor the struggles and triumphs of those who paved the way, while empowering current and future generations to continue the journey towards opportunity.

In celebration of Black History Month, Eastern’s Black Professional Alliance Employee Resource Group hosted a thought-provoking panel discussion moderated by Eastern Bank Vice Chair and President, Quincy Miller, bringing together community leaders from journalism, advocacy and the arts. “Our goal was to inspire a conversation about the Black experience – past, present and future – from leaders whose stories could inspire any of our colleagues across the company,” said Trillet Robinson, Eastern Bank Research Operations Processor and Co-Chair of the Black Professional Alliance Employee Resource Group.

Personal Journeys and Sources of Inspiration

Eastern Bank Vice Chair and President Quincy Miller (far left) leading a discussion with the panelists.

Black History Month has multiple meanings because it resonates differently with people on personal, cultural and societal levels. For some, it's a time to honor ancestors and recognize the struggles and triumphs of their heritage. Others view it as an opportunity to amplify Black voices, challenge stereotypes and advocate for social justice.

Dr. Noelle Trent, President of Boston’s Museum of African American History, provided a historical perspective on the significance of Black History Month, setting the stage for a reflective discussion on personal inspirations. She said, “Black History is inspiring to me on several levels. As a historian, you look at things that people didn’t mean to leave behind.”

Television and radio sports commentator Michael Holley.

Michael Holley, a television and radio sports commentator who can be seen on NBC Sports Boston, shared how his middle-class upbringing in Akron, Ohio where he was surrounded by Black role models in a range of professions from medicine to law and beyond shaped him, helping influence his writings early in his career that led to becoming a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for his team’s work highlighting the importance of storytelling in addressing racial issues. “I have always been inspired by language, whether that be of the oral tradition or on the page,” he said. “During February especially, I experience a lot of personal growth as I am so conscious of the stories of the people that came before me. I feel like I owe it to them to give it my best shot.”

Reverend Willie Bodrick II, Senior Pastor of Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury, MA and President and CEO of The American City Coalition, described his journey from Atlanta to Boston, and the culture shock he experienced as he faced institutional racism. To him, Black History Month is a conversation about people with resilience who have struggled, but also overcome. “I never like to talk about Blackness without talking about Black joy,” he said. “I am deeply invested in understanding how Black people, not just in America but in the diaspora, have struggled to articulate, bring meaning to experiences, affirm themselves when they are not being affirmed, and build institutions and communities that can sustain in the future.”

Ultimately, the significance of Black History Month is multifaceted, reflecting the complexities of Black experiences as well as the ongoing quest for equality and representation.

Perceptions vs Realities: The Evolving Landscape of Black History and Diversity in Boston

Reverend Willie Bodrick II, Senior Pastor of Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury, MA.

To fully appreciate Black History Month, we must also reflect on the somber moments of history and acknowledge deeply rooted injustices that exist. Quincy Miller put this into perspective by shifting the conversation to discuss the intertwined history of Black athletes and racism in Boston sports going back decades.

When discussing if this reputation is warranted, Michael Holley noted there are both valid realities and misperceptions of Boston to consider equally to inform future decisions about the city. “There is an instinctive defensiveness in Boston, and we need to stop that,” he said.

Reverend Bodrick talked about the importance of prioritizing the wholeness of narratives. “Black History Month is about telling new stories, and when we make room for these new stories, it will allow Boston to stand in context with other cities,” he said. “We have a shared narrative of different reflections, and every part of that story matters.”

For Boston’s progress to outlive the perceptions of its past, we must lift every voice.

A Path Forward: The Importance of Remembrance, Preservation of Black Institutions and Influence of Black Leaders

Confronting existing racial equity barriers in our society is necessary, but the work doesn’t end there. Dr. Trent spoke on the importance of allies, or “accomplices”, and the crucial role they play in advocating for underrepresented communities and challenging systemic inequities. Dr. Trent explained this distinction is important, as allies can often fall into a passive role, while accomplices “will speak up when Black people are not in the room.”

Dr. Noelle Trent, President of Boston’s Museum of African American History.

Supporting institutions that amplify marginalized voices is also important, as Dr. Trent described with pride her transformative experience attending Howard University, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU). HBCUs inspire young Black leaders by offering a supportive environment that celebrates Black culture and heritage, provides personalized mentorship and fosters academic excellence. HBCUs empower students to pursue their passions and become leaders in their communities and beyond. Dr. Trent reflected on the impact her education at Howard had on her own career as historian; by sharing public history, she can shape Black perspectives, directly confront historical erasure and create opportunities. And in one memorable instance, as a historian she is able to connect today’s generations to their past generations of family by telling their stories in museums for anyone to see.

Reverend Bodrick also highlighted the significance of preserving Black institutional buildings amidst gentrification, like the Twelfth Baptist Church.

Representation in all these facets is important, and not just siloed in top positions of power where it’s easy to think leaders in any sector should shoulder the responsibility of ensuring representation thrives. “Elite representation isn’t enough. Someone who holds a position of power must fight an uphill and downhill battle to get there and achieve what they’ve accomplished, and it isn’t fair to put more pressure on them,” said Reverend Bodrick. “If you want to get somewhere fast, you go along. If you want to go somewhere collectively, you go together. We do need people in positions of power, but we need people everywhere.”

The commemoration of Black History Month serves as a vital platform for acknowledging and honoring the multifaceted narratives and contributions of Black individuals throughout history. Jason Solomon, Eastern Vice President and Equity Alliance for Business Relationship Manager and Co-Chair of the Black Professional Alliance, said, “This conversation has far exceeded our expectations – it was empowering to hear our panelists’ experiences and their important messages on preserving and honoring Black voices and stories to inform a brighter future for all.” Let us continue this dialogue and take action year-round, and work together to advocate for collective progress.

Social Justice Racial Equity Diversity & Inclusion
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