At Ward Law, we recognize the significance of Black History Month and believe it’s essential to highlight the monumental contributions of Black people. But we also recognize that Black History isn’t only made up of transformative advancements in society. Black History is lived every day by mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, friends and neighbors.
With this in mind, we sat down with Alix Fequiere (Director of Marketing & Business Development for Ward Law), to discuss what Black History Month means to him.
What does Black History Month mean to you?
Black History is every day, it’s literally every single day. I don’t think there’s an aspect of society that hasn’t been impacted by Black History. Modern traffic lights, refrigerated trucks, automatic elevator doors, color monitors, ironing boards, automatic clothes dryers, blood banks, eradication of cataracts, home security systems, Supersoakers, automatic gear shifts, lawn sprinklers, folding chairs; these were all invented by Black people. You probably learned about the cotton gin in school, but you probably learned it wrong. The cotton gin was invented by Black people. They were in the fields picking cotton all day and figured out a way to not have to physically pick cotton with their hands. The patent was obtained by a white man, Eli Whitney, but it was invented by Black people. I mean, if you didn’t even have your own freedom, you surely didn’t have access to securing a patent for your invention, right?
How was Black History shared with you growing up?
For me, there was a tripartite influence. There was school, there was the streets, and then there was home. In school it was always the typical lessons about Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman or Frederick Douglas. It was as if that was all there was to Black History. In the streets, we talked mostly about Black people who were making history. Hip Hop music becoming a leader in pop culture had a huge influence on me, especially having an older brother, Kangol Kid, who was one of the pioneers of hip hop. At home it was more about Haitian culture. My brothers and I are first generation Americans. We were blessed to receive an everyday history lesson learning about Haiti and how in 1804 it became the first Black nation to revolt against slavery and win its independence.
Can you tell me a little bit more about your family’s story?
My parents came to this country in the mid-1960s. They arrived in Brooklyn and had to figure things out on their own. They saved their money meticulously, became homeowners and purchased a few taxi medallions, which was a huge deal back then. I speak fluent Haitian Creole because my grandmothers lived in the house with us and they didn’t speak any English at all.
My family was a starting point for many friends and family in Haiti who came to the US. We would have family come and stay with us for a few months, just to get on their feet. My family were kind of pioneers in that way.
Why is it important to bring the international perspective to Black History Month?
I’m sure you’ve heard this before but it bears repeating: the Black experience is not a monolith. I grew up with a lot of Caribbean friends and they all have their own individual histories. Whether it’s Jamaica, Trinidad, Cuba, Dominican Republic, or whatever the case, being Black is so multi-dimensional. These stories are all unique in their own way.
What are some resources to learn more about Black History?
There’s the obvious – educating yourself through books. I would also urge people to go on social media and simply follow some of the influential Black leaders of today. Whatever you’re into: politics, law, civil rights, history, television, film, media, sports, you name it, I guarantee you there’s an amazing Black person for that.
Personally, I’m a big sports and entertainment person. I really enjoy learning their history. Today, there are plenty of documentaries you can watch and podcasts you can follow. The Pivot is a good one. It’s a sports podcast hosted by three Black former NFL players. They do a really good job of highlighting Black sports figures and their stories. I’d also highly recommend the Hard2Earn podcast, a music podcast that celebrates the anniversaries of influential Hip Hop and R&B albums. The hosts do a deep track-by-track dive into how these albums influenced the culture and influenced them personally.
What things are we doing well in promoting Black History?
I appreciate seeing media outlets with different advertisements of Black History. It’s important for people to get these visuals. But it’s hard to say that things are being “done well” when not enough of it is being done. It’s like, “Yeah, that was good… that one month you did it.”
How can we as a society do better?
Better legislation, for starters, around how information is taught in schools. There’s a minimization and many times a flat-out denial of the contributions that Black people have made. Florida’s Stop W.O.K.E. Act which bars “critical race theory” from schools and universities is one of the most recent and most blatant examples of that.
Also, I think there are a lot of positive stories that don’t get a light shined on them. Part of the media’s job is to sensationalize stories and get ratings. So there’s always this huge emphasis on the negative. We don’t often get the stories of Black education, ownership, or inventions because they’re not sexy.
Do you think that we’re at least making some strides?
Yes, strides are certainly being made. But as a Black man, I must admit that it doesn’t always feel that way. Mainly because these strides are incremental when scaled against racist acts that seem to occur almost daily. It’s difficult to see progress when it feels like each step forward is accompanied by two steps backwards.
But this is why I’m conducting this interview: To be an agent in the progress of Blacks as well as the awareness of others.