Celebrating Black History

Black history isn’t relegated to a single month of the year. Explore a “daily treasure” from our BHM treasure trove, and develop a wealth of knowledge about Black history, culture, adversity, and progress.

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Treasure #11 (Feb 14): The origins of rock ‘n’ roll

Shared by Enyinnaya Nwoke (he/they), a Software Engineer:

Welcome to day 14 of BHM. Today, I wanted to share some knowledge about one of my favorite topics: music—specifically, rock ‘n’ roll and its origin in traditional African American music. 

The precursors

Rock ‘n’ roll is viewed around the world as one of the greatest American contributions to music culture. But how many of us know how it came to be? To answer that, we have to go way back and talk about its precursors.

The blues originated in the American Deep South in the mid-19th century (1850s–60s), and was created by enslaved communities. These communities had many spirituals, field-work songs, shouts, and chants that had been preserved via oral tradition—held onto despite displacement from their homelands centuries prior. The call-and-response format and use of “blue notes” can be traced back to traditional music from Africa. Prominent blues musicians include Ma Rainey (the “Mother of the Blues”) and WC Handy.

Another rock ancestor is ragtime, a style that featured syncopated (or “ragged”) rhythms. Ragtime pieces were typically played on piano and were popularized by composers such as Scott Joplin and Joseph Lamb. I want to focus on the syncopation, though, as it led nearly directly to the rise of jazz: a musical style that needs no introduction. 

Jazz came about as a fusion of blues and ragtime in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and originated in the African American communities of New Orleans. Jazz is such a well-known style of music that the 1920s are sometimes referred to as the “Jazz Age.” Artists and composers like Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and Louis Armstrong pioneered the genre and its evolution into offshoots like swing, boogie-woogie and jump blues.

Rock ‘n’ roll

From these roots—blues, jazz, ragtime, jump blues, gospel, and many others created or influenced by African Americans—came rock ‘n’ roll. Characterized by backbeats (we clap on 2 and 4, folks), bass lines, and dance rhythms borrowed from its forebears, this genre first appeared in the late 1920s and ‘30s, but was not named until the 1950s. 

Artists like Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Sister Rosetta Thorpe helped to define Rock & Roll, and from their influence came all of its later permutations, all of which still carry bits and pieces in their origins among a displaced group of people living in the American South.

Thanks for reading along, and as a closing gift, here is “Didn’t It Rain” performed live by Rosetta Tharpe (aka the “Godmother of Rock ‘n’ Roll” and the “Original Soul Sister”): 

Treasure #12 (Feb 15): An enlightening HBCU experience

Shared by Bennie Caesar (he/him), a Salesforce DevOps Engineer:

Growing up, I found myself excited when my family would travel to South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, SC, for their football games. It was there that I saw Black culture on full display and just knew this was where I wanted to go to school, not knowing just how important this HBCU was and still is.

What is an HBCU?

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) were established prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as a way make higher education more available to Black Americans. Prior to HBCUs, Black students were routinely denied admission at existing institutions, both public and private. The oldest HBCU in the nation is Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, founded in 1837. 

The history of SC State University

One of the things you learn as an incoming freshman at South Carolina State University is the history of the school, including our basketball arena, Smith Hammond Middleton (or SHM), which was named in memory of three young men killed in the Orangeburg Massacre.

Here’s how SC State describes that solemn event:

“On the night of February 8, 1968, nine South Carolina Highway Patrolmen fired their weapons into a crowd of Black students protesting on the front of the campus of South Carolina State College. Three students were killed and twenty-eight were injured. Virtually all of the young men were hit in the back by shotgun pellets and bullets. The shootings were the culmination of lengthy protests against the vestiges of segregation and the persistence of racial discrimination in Orangeburg, especially the ‘white only’ policy of the All-Star Bowling Lanes.

This […] became known locally and across South Carolina as the Orangeburg Massacre […]

While racial divisions have certainly not been eliminated, they have been reduced as a measure of reconciliation has taken place. The Orangeburg of 2023 is a far more harmonious community than the Orangeburg of 1968. For that we can be grateful.”

The legacy of SC State University

Here are a few notable alumni of SC State University:

Kára McCullough graduated from SC State University with a BS in chemistry. Her concentration: radiochemistry.

With a historically dominant football program, SC State has a rich history of producing NFL talent. This includes four Hall of Famers (more than any school in the state): Harry Carson, Deacon Jones, Marion Motley, and Donnie Shell. Other notable NFL players include current players Shaquille Leonard and Javon Hargrave.

Since 1949, SC State has produced more than 2,000 second lieutenants. The university is the leading producer of minority general officers among all HBCUs, and is second only to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York.

In 2018, SC State alumnus Brigadier General Milford “Beags” Beagle Jr. became the acting commanding general of Fort Jackson, the largest basic training base in the country. SC State is also home to two retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Generals: Henry Doctor Jr. and Stephen Twitty.

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Treasure #13 (Feb 16): An international peace-keeper

Shared by Charkie Quarcoo:

Today’s daily treasure is about one of my role models growing up: Kofi Annan, the 7th Secretary-General of the United Nations (1997–2006).

As a native of Ghana (like my dad), Kofi Annan’s career trajectory at the U.N. and his relentless advocacy for human rights and peacekeeping inspired me. A quick fun fact: I first learned of him after people constantly mistook my dad for him. Like my dad, Kofi Annan immigrated to a cold place after leaving Ghana. He received his undergraduate degree in economics at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota—brr! 🥶—before gaining his Master of Science at MIT Sloan.

Annan had a 40+ year career at the U.N., starting in 1962 as an administrative and budget officer with the WHO (World Health Organization). As Secretary-General, Kofi Annan challenged the status quo, led an extensive reform of the United Nations’ operations to improve its effectiveness, and elevated the U.N.’s public image by creating strong ties between civil society, the private sector, and other influential partners.

During his tenure, he was integral to several diplomatic and peacekeeping initiatives. Below are some highlights from his time as Secretary-General:

  • Awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace (jointly with the U.N.) in 2001
  • Created the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Malaria, and Tuberculosis in 2002
  • Established the U.N.’s first counter-terrorism strategy in 2006
  • His Global Compact initiative, launched in 1999, became the world’s biggest effort to encourage Corporate Social Responsibility
  • Facilitated Nigeria’s transition to civilian rule in 1999
  • Helped Timor-Leste gain independence from Indonesia in 2002
  • Led the certification of Israeli troops’ withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000
  • Contributed to the end of hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006

Kofi Annan passed away in 2018 at the age of 80, however, his impact is undeniable as he received numerous awards and international prizes.

Treasure #14 (Feb 17): A culturally rich Haitian dish

Shared by Tamara Wilmart (she/her), our Accounting Manager:

Thank you for joining me for day 17 of BHM! I will be sharing a personal favorite Black culture recipe on this edition of Foodie Friday.

If someone were to ask me what my favorite Haitian dish is, one of the top two answers would definitely be soup joumou. What is that you ask? Haitian squash soup! I love this dish sooo much because it is delicious, rich, hearty yet light, healthy-ish (all soups are healthy, right?), and has great cultural significance.

What is soup joumou?

Soup joumou is a visually sumptuous dish comprised of the warm ochre tones of pureed squash as a base, to which one combines an assortment of stew meat, potatoes, carrots, shredded cabbage, leeks, malanga, turnips, and a handful of spaghetti or large-cut macaroni for added texture. 

It is further made to taste with some preparers adding ginger, bell peppers, fresh sage, rosemary, parsley, culantro (not to be confused with cilantro), etc. It can be enjoyed with a loaf of crusty bread, or—my favorite—a slice of avocado on top.

The history of soup joumou

In addition to its visual appeal, this dish also holds a lot of significance for Haitians because it is a symbol of Haiti’s Independence Day. It commemorates Haiti’s liberation from French colonial rule on January 1, 1804. 

During slavery, only French colonial masters and plantation owners were allowed to enjoy the delicacy, which was prepared by enslaved Haitians. On their Independence Day, newly freed Haitians claimed the dish for themselves as a symbol of their victory. Ever since then, the dish has woven itself into the cultural fabric of Haiti and its diaspora.

Celebrating soup joumou

Soup joumou holds particular meaning for me and my family. I remember my mom and all the aunties, gathering together in the kitchen on New Year’s Eve, to begin preparations for the soup, complete with laughter and much loud talking. The New Year is ushered in, and we spend the day celebrating, enjoying multiple bowls of soup throughout the day, traveling to visit family and friends to share the soup with them, and/or receiving guests doing the same. 

Soup joumou is greater than the sum of its parts. It is a beautiful dish that symbolizes independence and community. It can be enjoyed year-round, so be sure to drop in on your local Haitian restaurant or bakery, usually on a Saturday or Sunday morning, to enjoy yourself a bowl.

I’ll leave you with an authentic soup joumou recipe from this wonderful blog. Feast your eyes on the pictures—’cause it’s the colors for me. Thank you!

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Treasure #15 (Feb 20): An all-time great museum

Shared by Charisse Alouidor:

For today’s BHM treasure, I thought I would share a plug for one of my favorite museums, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, located in Washington D.C.

I remember when this museum opened back in the fall of 2016 and how hard it was to get tickets. Literally, it was harder than trying to score Beyoncé’s Renaissance Tour tickets. 

That said, when my husband, myself, and some of our best friends went in April 2017, it was by far one of the most enlightening and moving experiences I have ever had in a museum outside of visiting the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (equally as moving). 

This was the first time I spent more than seven hours walking through exhibits being left feeling as though I still needed more time. Another great thing about the museum is that there’s a delicious restaurant located in the basement with a variety of food represented from Black culture.

Now, I know our PIoneers live all over the country, so for those who may not have an opportunity to get to D.C. anytime soon, no worries—you’re in luck! There’s a “Virtual Tour” option with lots of cool digital learning experiences from the exhibits. Feel free to check it out!

Treasure #16 (Feb 21): Phat Tuesdays

Shared by Jonathan Millien:

For today’s daily treasure, I’m excited to talk about one of my favorite things in the world: standup comedy.

I’m a self-proclaimed comedy nerd at heart. I love everything about the art form—from the bellyaching laughs to the thought-provoking points. Growing up, I was drawn to legendary Black comedians such as Eddie Murphy, Bernie Mac, Dave Chappelle, and the number of hilarious comedians that performed on BET’s Comic View.

A year ago, I watched a fantastic docuseries, Phat Tuesdays: The Era of Hip Hop Comedy. It highlights how the comedian Guy Tory started the most famous Black comedy night in the ‘90s at the world-famous Comedy Store in Hollywood, CA. At that time, The Comedy Store had very few Black comedians as “mainstream” acts. The Comedy Act Theater was the only successful comedy club in L.A. that catered to Black comedians and audiences. 

Unfortunately, after the L.A. riots in 1992, which started after a jury acquitted four officers of the Los Angeles Police Department charged with using excessive force in the arrest and beating of Rodney King, the comedy club closed its doors, leaving a void for Black comics to perfect their craft or gain notoriety. That is, until Guy Tory Pitched the idea of “Phat Tuesdays” to Mitzi shore.

The creation of Phat Tuesdays launched the careers of some of the world’s biggest comedians such as Steve Harvey, Martin Lawrence, Tiffany Haddish, Chris Tucker, and many more! It legitimized the Black comedy scene in L.A. One of the most fascinating facts is that without the overwhelming success of Phat Tuesdays, the Comedy Store was at risk of being shut down. 

If you are a comedy fan like me, I recommend you watch this for a great laugh and a learning opportunity!

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Treasure #17 (Feb 22): The magic of Black poetry

Shared by David Silbert (he/him), a Content Designer:

Hi PIoneers! As we enter the final week of February, I’m thrilled to bring you my own “daily treasure.”

As many of you know, writing’s kind of my job here. So, when given the opportunity to write about Black History Month as part of the Cousins community, I jumped at the chance! And what better way to describe my Black experience than by writing about, well… writing. 

For Day 22 of BHM, I’m celebrating Black poetry. 

The history of Black poetry in the U.S. spans centuries, dating back to the very inception of this country. The first known published Black poet was Jupiter Hammon, a slave born in 1711 in Long Island, New York. In 1778, Phillis Wheatley, a young girl named after the slave ship that brought her to Boston, became the first Black female poet to be published.

The poems of Hammon and Wheatley were heavily spiritual, focusing on God and the promise of salvation. In a series of poems Hammon addressed to Wheatley, he wrote:

“The humble soul shall fly to God,
And leave the things of time,
Start forth as ’twere at the first word,
To taste things more divine.”

What I find particularly telling is that, early on in the history of our country, Black poetry was deeply rooted in faith—the idea of waiting for something better beyond life. Fast-forward not even a century, though, and that sentiment starts to shift dramatically.

Look no further than George Moses Horton, born into slavery in 1798 in North Carolina. Despite not knowing how to read, Horton wrote poems by reading them aloud, and would even sell them at farmers markets and to students at the University of North Carolina. He was one of the first to publicly condemn slavery through his poetry. In “On Liberty and Slavery,” he wrote:

“Come Liberty, thou cheerful sound,
Roll through my ravished ears!
Come, let my grief in joys be drowned,
And drive away my fears.”

Thus, the seed of resistance was born! 

There are countless Black poets who have carried that resistance through their words. Here are some notable examples:

James Monroe Whitfield was one of the first post-abolition Black poets. Despite working as a barber to make ends meet, Whitfield found plenty of time to opine on racism and America’s future. His works were published in a variety of publications, including two managed by Frederick Douglass.

Langston Hughes was a leader of the Harlem Renaissance and the quintessential 20th century poet. Hughes is renowned for depicting the heart of Black America, in all its beauty and sorrow. Read his own thoughts on Black poetry, or any of these incredible poems.

The first Black American to win the Pulitzer Prize, Gwendolyn Brooks is one of the greatest to ever put a pen to paper. Need definitive proof that “less is more”? Read “We Real Cool.” Seriously, it’s incredible. (Once you’ve read it, watch it animated.)

You already know Maya Angelou. A prolific author and speaker, Angelou was a tireless advocate for civil rights in this country. Her works include “Still I Rise,” “Caged Bird,” and “Harlem Hopscotch.”

Quite possibly the most famous poet born within the 21st century, Amanda Gormon became a household name after she delivered her uplifting poem “The Hill We Climb” at President Biden’s inauguration. Gormon has two best-selling poetry books to her name, both of which are worth checking out!

Thanks for reading, and happy writing! 😎✍🏽

Treasure #18 (Feb 23): The history of house music

Shared by Enyinnaya Nwoke:

Hello folks, and welcome to day 23 of Black History Month. I’ve got another BHM treasure post, fresh off the presses! 

Like my last, this one’s also going to talk about music—specifically, house music.

What is house music?

Lots of y’all have probably at least heard of house music, but what is it exactly? Well, house music has a ton of sub-genres, but there are a few characteristics that are shared among most of them. Those characteristics are:

House is known for its 4/4 time signature and off-beat hi-hat and clap patterns. (Recall the backbeat concept from my rock ‘n’ roll post!)

House tracks typically play at 115 to 130 bpm.

Especially 1980s-era ones—here’s an example from Chicago DJ & House pioneer Jesse Saunders.

House was born “from the ashes of disco,” a genre that itself has roots in psychedelic soul, and house retains elements of both.

I.e., bits of other songs spliced in to fit the groove.

One of the most interesting things about house music is how it demonstrates the fact that African American culture is not monolithic. The culture changes—from region to region, according to where one is among the diaspora, from the intersections of Blackness with other marginalized identities, and more. We see that prominently in the history of house music.

The history of house music

House music first appeared in Chicago. According to The Dance Music Manual: Tools, Toys, and Techniques by Rick Snoman, house music was named after the Warehouse club and was popularized by the club’s resident DJ, Frankie Knuckles. Patrons of the club were primarily members of the Black LGBT community, who would go to Warehouse and clubs like it to dance to incredible mixes provided by DJs like the aforementioned Knuckles & Jesse Saunders, as well as other Chicago House pioneers like Joe Smooth, Phuture, and many more.

From Chicago, house music spread to New York City and quickly became a staple of clubs there, where Black and Latinx LGBT folks would congregate in spaces for fun and safety from general anti-queer bigotry and regular police raids. Venues like Paradise Garage (where the more soulful R&B-derived sub-genre of house called garage house was minted) and Stonewall (of historical fame) were centers for the evolution of house. These venues provided the avenue for house to springboard onto the international stage, where it has become one of America’s most widely exported music genres (another being hip-hop).

Now, I’m no music historian, but I hope this brief history of house gives some insight into the diversity of the Black experience and the massive impact it has had on the diversity that exists within American culture today.

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Treasure #19 (Feb 24): Vegan-friendly cooking

Shared by Jabari Dawkins:

Welcome back to Foodie Friday! 

Found a fantastic pair of recipes for today. I won’t spoil what I’m making here, but the recipes come from a wonderful cookbook called Afro Vegan by Bryant Terry! 

Fun fact, I picked this cookbook up a LONG time ago, when my twin sister and I went to D.C. for our birthday! I can’t remember the name of the place, but it also had some amazing vegan food! 

Just a heads-up, this video is best enjoyed on a vertical screen. 😬 Enjoy, y’all!

Treasure #20 (Feb 27): Idlewild, Michigan

Shared by Andre Morris (he/him), a Salesforce Business Applications Analyst:

What’s up, PIoneers?! Happy Monday. It’s day 27 of BHM and I have the privilege of sharing today’s daily BHM treasure!

Travel is an essential element of the American ideal. Travel experiences often change our lives and inform our worldview by allowing us to meet new people and see new things. For many reasons, marginalized populations tend to travel less. And we can’t talk about the history of travel in America without examining how Black Americans have fought for spaces in which they could exist freely. Places where they could take hold of this essential piece of the American experience.

Before, during, and after the Jim Crow era (when segregation was legal and Black people were legally and explicitly prohibited from existing where and how doing so made white people uncomfortable) different methods were used to punish, intimidate, and terrorize Black people to deter them from showing up where they weren’t wanted. One way was the implicit threat of violence for being Black in a white neighborhood or municipality after sunset. These municipalities came to be known as Sundown towns

Not exclusive to the Jim Crow south, Sundown towns added a layer of difficulty for Black people exploring the United States. Whether it was for weddings, funerals, relocation, or vacation, route planning had to take into account the real possibility of psychological and/or physical violence/harassment. This is one reason Black travel can be viewed as resistance to white supremacy. 

My BHM treasure, Idlewild, MI, is an example of that resistance.

The history of Idlewild, MI

Idlewild began in the early 1900s and was advertised as one of the few destinations where Black Americans could freely purchase land. Daniel Hale Williams, Madame C.J. Walker, and W.E.B. Dubois were some of the first to purchase property in Idlewild. 

As most places do, Idlewild underwent some change and evolution over time. From a small community to a larger, investment-driven Black business center (similar to Tulsa’s Greenwood district), to a popular resort town known as “Black Eden.” To a hunter’s/angler’s paradise, where prominent Black entertainers of the time—like Aretha Franklin, B.B. King, Della Reese, Fats Waller, The Four Tops, and Cab Calloway—would pack clubs full.

My late grandmother owned a small two-bedroom home in Idlewild and nearly every summer of my childhood, we’d spend a week there enjoying different summer festivals and trips to Lake Michigan. She’d share stories of the vacations she spent there in her youth with her cousins. How vibrant the community was and how exciting it was to see the performances. 

By the time I’d gotten to see Idlewild, it had seen significant divestment and decline as other vacation destinations became more accessible to African Americans. So while it is no longer the destination it once was, for me, it serves as an important historical site and a reminder that leisure as Black resistance is both valid and necessary.

Treasure #21 (Feb 28): Keeping the party going!

Shared by Charisse Alouidor:

PIoneers & fellow Changemakers: We have arrived at a bittersweet moment. We have officially reached day 28 of Black History Month, which means we are at the end of our daily treasures series. Yes, insert ugly cry here! 😭

But on a serious note, as co-leads of the Cousins ERG, Jonathan Milien and I would like to take this time to say “thank you” to all of the members of Cousins who took the time to research, write, proofread, and post these incredible treasures all month long. We do not take your efforts lightly and are incredibly grateful for everyone who jumped in throughout the month to like, comment, and enjoy these thoughtful posts. I don’t know about you, but I can safely say that I learned something every single day, and for that, I am extremely thankful and humbled.

Even though the designated month to celebrate Black history is ending, we see this as an opportunity to continue the learning year-round, and we thought we’d offer up a fun way to “keep the party going” so to speak. 

Here is a link to a curated Black History Month playlist featuring songs that members of Cousins have chosen that are impactful to us and our culture. As is evident by our ERG, you’ll notice diversity in the music as you listen to the playlist. We hope you enjoy this at your leisure and, once again, thank you for sharing this incredible month with us!