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February 2022 Newsletter: Why is Black History Month in February?


February 23rd, 2022

Hello partners,

Like many of you, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is in the midst of celebrating Black History Month. While I have always been grateful for the focus, I’ve long been grumpy about it being celebrated during the shortest month. I’ve always wondered why we don’t celebrate year round? Being naturally curious and a data nerd, I went hunting for the origin story. I now owe an apology to the founders of what we now know as Black History Month. And, I think the explanation is worth sharing with all of you as we honor the various cultures and heritages that make up our state and country.

Almost a century ago, in 1926, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) sponsored the first national Negro History week to celebrate and promote achievements by Black Americans and those of African descent. The ASALH intentionally selected February in honor of the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and former U.S. President Abraham Lincoln. Given the thoughtful way BHM was created and has evolved, I commit to doing a better job of enjoying the celebrations and honoring the achievements.

In the spaces we occupy, it is my hope that we are all as intentional at doing our part to honor the achievements of the diverse cultures and heritages that make up Washington state and our nation. And, that we continue to partner to mitigate the systemic barriers that present a challenge to achievement for ALL of our students and families.

In Partnership,

Angela Jones

Partner Spotlight

Courtesy of Black Future Co-Op Fund

At the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we believe it’s important to lift up diverse cultures and heritages not just one month at a time but throughout the year. Here are just a few of our grantees and their local partners who celebrate Black History Month all year long by working to expand opportunity and access for Black children, students, and families across Washington state:

  • Philanthropy Northwest is working to shift power in systems-change work to more Black, Indigenous and/or People of Color (BIPOC) communities. Their Racial Equity Resource Hub highlights grantmakers’ work to support BIPOC-led organizations on the front lines of social change. If you are interested in connecting with other Black philanthropy professionals, please check out their Black Folks in Philanthropy monthly meet-up.

  • At Rainier Valley Leadership Academy (RVLA), CEO Baionne Coleman has been intentional about building a team of educators that reflect their diverse student population. And it matters to RVLA’s students. As one student KK shares in this Q&A, “As a student, racial representation in your teachers matters. It helps a lot because they know partially where we come from – they know how to deal with certain things we are going through.” Coleman and Chief Operations Officer Chastity Catchings are also focused on using Black and Global Majority owned businesses as vendors of the school, ensuring dollars flow back into the communities RVLA serves.

  • The Black Education Strategy Roundtable has a specific focus on advocacy and coalition-building to support the education of Black students. Their vision is to ensure 100% of Black students graduate with a meaningful high school diploma, exceptionally prepared for college, work, productive citizenship, and life.

  • The Black Future Co-Op Fund is the first Black-led philanthropy for Washington and works to generate renewed prosperity for Black communities across the state. Before she joined the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Angela Jones co-founded the Black Future Co-Op Fund—a Community Engagement team grantee―and she continues to lead the fund outside of her role here at the foundation. This Black History Month, they partnered with Elliott Bay Book Company in spotlighting Black writers, historians, and thought leaders.

Community Engagement

At this time last year, we were winding down our Family Homelessness strategy after local counties made significant improvements to their crisis response systems. Families who become homeless in the Puget Sound region are now spending less time in the system and are less likely to return to it once housed.

The number of people becoming homeless, however, has only continued to rise. That’s why our Community Engagement team, which makes responsive community grants separate from our Washington state work, joined with other public and private partners to launch Partnership for Zero—a new coalition working to dramatically reduce unsheltered homelessness in areas of King County.

We believe every person deserves a place to call home and build their life. As Director of Community Engagement Amy Carter shared, “This new Partnership offers the people, resources, and solutions needed to make this a reality for the people of King County. We join this effort with optimism about what’s possible when we take action against homelessness together.”

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