Celebrating Representation with Black History Month, and Why it Matters to Children and Youth Experiencing Foster Care

by Veronica Farris, SAFY Chief Marketing and Business Development Officer

Ms. Farris also chairs SAFY’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee, a team dedicated to building a culture of inclusiveness to advance the SAFY Mission of Preserving Families and Securing Futures by representing the diverse communities served and ensuring inclusivity of all humanity.

Seeing is believing. Dr. Elizabeth Wayne, a biomedical engineer whose work focuses on the diagnostic evaluation and delivery of drug carriers in cancer and regenerative medical treatments, recalls one of the first major conferences she attended as a graduate student. Although she had been a student at two Ivy League schools, it was the first time she attended a lecture where the speaker looked like her. “Until that moment, I never realized I had never had someone who looked like me, teaching me,” she said.

Her revolutionary work into how cells adapt and communicate in the immune system has improved the way drugs are administered to treat diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s. As a result of her work, she receives many emails from people saying they have never seen a Black woman in a lab coat pictured as having contributed to a major scientific discovery.

When we see people who look like us doing extraordinary things, it helps us imagine the possibility of doing that too. Children having representation and seeing role models that look like them are essential for those experiencing foster care. Black children are overrepresented in the foster care system across the board, compared to other racial groups. According to Kids Count 2018 data, Black children make up 13.71% of the population, yet 22.75% of children experiencing foster care are Black. Once in care, Black youth stay longer and are far less likely to be adopted. In general, they experience lower educational outcomes, including a 12% decrease in graduation rates compared to their non-Black peers.

Black History Month is celebrated throughout February since 1976. However, it shouldn’t be the only time of year for all youth to learn about the contributions made by Black people. It is important to recognize and celebrate trailblazers in the Black community and the many ways they have benefitted our culture and society.

We’re sharing some great resources for families to learn about historical and present-day Black figures and their achievements to celebrate Black History Month.

Celebrate Present Day Black Americans

While we traditionally focus on historical figures like Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and Harriett Tubman during Black History month, this year seek additional opportunities to learn about present-day leaders, inventors, scientists, educators, entertainers, and many others who represent Black History, such as:

  • Bianca Smith, the first African American woman to serve as a professional baseball coach, currently working in the Boston Red Sox organization
  • Kamala Harris, the first African American woman to be sworn into the office of the Vice President of the United States
  • Angela F. Williams, the first Black woman to serve as CEO of United Way Worldwide, the world’s largest privately funded nonprofit
  • Amanda Gorman, the first African America National Youth Poet Laureate of the United States, whose inaugural poem “The Hill We Climb” became an integral part of President Joe Biden’s swearing in ceremony
  • Victor J. Glover, Jr., the first Black astronaut to live on the International Space Station
  • Brian E. Argrett, Chief Executive of City First, is leading the largest Black-owned bank in the U.S. with more than $1B in assets
  • Toy companies such as Barbie are launching lines celebrating Black leaders – in 2022, civil rights icon Ida B. Wells is set to get her own Barbie doll
  • Filmmakers like Ana DuVernay are inspiring Black girls to be superheroes

Find Black Representation in Your Community

This year our Diversity Equity & Inclusion council launched a scavenger hunt contest to encourage our staff and the families and youth we serve to discover the Black history in our own community. The hunt will allow each of us to patron black-owned businesses, the arts, historical landmarks and more. There are many ways to see Black Americans represented and celebrated in society, media, and culture.

Together, We Can Help Black Children in Foster Care Recognize their Potential

Black History Month is more than just a look backward. It’s an opportunity to help children see themselves represented in positive careers held by professionals, entrepreneurs, entertainers, educators and the like – and for all children to learn about the full history of America and how Black people have contributed greatly to our society.

Black history is, and has always been, American history. And just like Dr. King had a dream, my dream is that Black children experiencing foster care will have equitable outcomes and the same opportunity to live up to their greatest potential in life. We at SAFY hope all families will take time to learn and celebrate the many contributions Black people have made and continue to shape, challenge, and strengthen America.

To learn more about the importance of educating children about Black history, visit https://safy.org/black-history-month/, or our blog library at https://safy.org/blog/.