In the midst of Black History Month — just in the past week – we’ve collectively celebrated some of the most highly visible African-American accomplishments in sports and entertainment. While perhaps not as famous as Beyonce or Patrick Mahomes, every day and in every community, there are countless others in law, science, medicine, technology, and government whose quiet contributions are equally important to the American story.

Since Black History Month was formalized by President Ford in 1976 during the American Bicentennial – it has been a source of both pride and prejudice. Its purpose — to acknowledge and honor the contributions of African Americans throughout history – has often been sidestepped or minimized by those who would interject “Why isn’t there a White History Month?” or “All Lives Matter.” Countering those concepts is challenging and frustrating for those of us who crave and have lobbied for social justice and a level playing field for our friends and colleagues, in both business and everyday life.

Janet Hamilton at Centerforce

This month brings to mind a conference I attended in the fall — Centerforce’s Driving Diversity in Law and Leadership in Chicago. I’ve been to a lot of fairly mundane diversity conferences over the years, but this one was different. (My favorite quote was “Diversity is a numbers game, but Inclusion is a contact sport.”) Ages, stages, races, ethnicities, law firms, and companies were all represented and I was particularly impressed with the forthright and open discussions, timely hard topics, novel ideas, thought leadership, and innovative steps folks are taking to ensure inclusion and promote success.

Speakers were straight-talking game-changers tuned in to laws and trends, and they encouraged us to get uncomfortable together. I liked it. Thoughts and ideas were uttered out loud that I was (pleasantly) surprised by – but isn’t that how problems are solved? Air it, share it, reach consensus, and fix it? We left there with a challenge to do something – anything – to advance diversity and opportunity, especially within our corporate and business circles.

Reflecting on my three years at TCDI, there has always been an undercurrent of empathy and a challenge to “do the right thing.” Early on, our leadership responded immediately to the Black Lives Matter movement with a Better Than Yesterday initiative and a call for us to serve our communities, patronize minority-owned businesses, and contribute financially to endeavors designed to uplift underserved communities of color.

Internally, we celebrate diversity in all of its forms every day; locally, we all continue to volunteer, coach, donate, and serve whenever we can; and nationally, we routinely sponsor endeavors which keep important (and uncomfortable) conversations going as a means to create opportunity.

I’m proud to work with a group of people which has been steadfast in its commitment to advancing racial and social equality — especially now, when news cycles challenge our stamina. I hope that we can all continue to get uncomfortable together as we celebrate what remains of Black History Month and continue to face the challenges ahead.

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