I’m a member of a few Employee Resource Group (ERG) at my job, one of which is to foster inclusion and advancement of Black employees at all levels. I was tasked by the group to write an article for Black History Month entitled, “Embracing Black Excellence: Understanding and Celebrating Its Meaning.” Here’s my article (tweaked a little):
In a world that has often dehumanized Black people and ignored or downplayed Black contributions in philosophy, theology, the arts, and technology, the phrase Black Excellence is offensive to many, confusing to some, and freely embraced by others.
But what exactly is Black Excellence?
Black Excellence Defined
A quick Google search led me to quite a few definitions. Here are three:
- Black Excellence was coined during the Civil Rights Movement and was used to “amplify shunned Black communities during the segregationist Jim Crow Era in the US, and evolved into shorthand for Black achievements in a society filled with racial disparities” (https://www.cosmopolitan.com/uk/reports/a39570002/black-excellence/).
- “The term Black Excellence refers to a high level of achievement, success, or ability demonstrated by an individual Black person or by Black people in general” (www.dictionary.com).
- “Black Excellence is a state of being, forged from the history of our struggle” (https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2021/02/18/america-black-excellence-declaration-exceeds-trends/6788074002/)
While I appreciated those definitions, I was curious what a few of my family and friends thought Black Excellence meant:
- “The need to be two to three times better to get on the same leveled playing field as others. This includes dress, time, proficiency, attitude, and aptitude…”
- “Black Excellence means pride and joy to me.”
- “God’s power revealed from a Black perspective.”
- “Doing the best for themselves, their family, their God, and their community as it relates to being a Black person.”
The interesting thing was that among the many thought pieces I read about Black Excellence, most of them named celebrities, athletes, politicians, or some other famous person as an example of Black Excellence: Beyonce, Lebron James, VP Kamala Harris, President Barak Obama, and the Honorable Ketanji Brown Jackson. And while I agree they are examples of Black Excellence, I don’t believe Black Excellence is only reserved for famous people. No! I believe Black Excellence includes you and me.
Unfortunately, many of us don’t ascribe Black Excellence to ourselves because we don’t understand our greatness, don’t appreciate our uniqueness, and downplay our accomplishments. Black people in the States have heard, “You have to be twice as good” all our lives. We’ve heard that we had to be better, smarter, faster, nicer, and compliant, and we’ve tried to live up to those demands. We don’t see ourselves as Black Excellence when we don’t meet those demands.
My Definition of Black Excellence
Black Excellence is seen in the fruit of anything that moves us forward individually and collectively while also remembering and honoring those who have come before us – for they are our inspiration.
Allow me to give some examples of what I see as Black Excellence:
- Black Excellence is the love, joy, forgiveness, humor, and resilience Black people have displayed and continues to display in the face of overwhelming odds.
- Black home ownership is Black Excellence, especially considering the effects of redlining on our parents and grandparents.
- General Michael E. Langley, who was promoted as the first Black four-star general in the U.S. Marine Corps, is Black Excellence when many of our grandfathers or great-grandfathers were denied their VA loan benefits or killed when they returned from war.
- Attending college when many of our ancestors weren’t allowed to read or write is Black Excellence.
- Even something as simple as taking a vacation is Black Excellence because, for so many of our parents and grandparents, the idea of and the finances for vacations were nonexistent.
- My mother, who raised six children on a domestic’s salary, demonstrated Black Excellence in her ability to provide for her children.
- My sister, who worked 30 years for a grocery store to help support her family while becoming friends with and praying for her customers, is Black Excellence.
- My Pastor, who started a church about 15 years ago to serve the needs of our community, is Black Excellence.
- My husband, a truck driver, who delivers products and goods nationwide, is Black Excellence.
- And I, working for a great company that encourages an employee resource group (ERG) that “…fosters inclusion and advancement for Black employees…” am Black Excellence.
And you, Dear Reader, are Black Excellence because you and your progress are the fruit of your ancestors’ dreams, resilience, and faith.
Simply living your Black life to the best of your ability – that’s Black Excellence.