Written by Nikki Thompson, Head of Multicultural Content at Yahoo
Being the namesake of legendary poet and activist, Nikki Giovanni, is a driving force in my identity as a change agent. Activism transcends into motherhood, marriage and career. Globally, there was a shift and a broader acknowledgement that Black lives were devalued and the pandemic disproportionately impacted people of other. This made the demand for my role within the organization increasingly important. Highlighting intersectional, inclusive storytelling became essential for media and content providers, and this aligns with my vision for Yahoo. I work with teams across the company to produce diverse content that resonates with multicultural communities and to celebrate heritage moments like Black History Month that are important to diverse audiences.
Exposure to Black history and stories was limited in Southern California public schools in the 90s. Every February pictures of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Rosa Parks would dangle along the walls of the classrooms. And somehow that was the extent to what was taught. Every year, for this one month, they were the only civil rights activists that were discussed. And always the same watered-down versions of their life's work. Black history was not taught beyond Black History Month and was only presented in the context of slavery and the Civil Rights Movement. Learning about white historical figures and their positive contributions to society the majority of the school year had a major impact on how I saw myself and my community. Furthermore, I did not learn about Black LGBTQ+ people in grade school or college. It would have been life-changing to be introduced to intersectional identities and the nuanced perspectives that come with those lived experiences. The confidence to be my full Black queer self would have become a reality at a much younger age.
Watching storytelling through the powerful dance moves of the Alvin Ailey Dance Company was an overwhelming experience. When I learned that Alvin Ailey was a Black queer man, that heightened my love and appreciation for the art he gifted the world and his ability to live out loud. His inspiration led to lots of unpacking and introspection, and I learned the importance of bringing my full self everywhere I go. My authenticity fuels my work in both my personal and professional life.
It was such a disservice to not learn about impactful figures like Alvin Ailey during Black History Month and beyond. It is important to highlight joy, art, community, inventions, innovation not only during heritage months, but all year round instead of focusing simply on hardships and resilience. The abolition of slavery tends to be the focal point of Black History Month but there’s a lack of stories about vibrant periods like the Harlem Renaissance and economic contributions like Black Wall Street. Organizations need to be more intentional about balancing hardships with joy and struggle with contributions. Capturing the breadth of rich, complex Black stories is the true Black history the world needs.