What Black History Month Means to Me

February 22, 2021


In 1968, when I was ten, my dad brought a new James Brown 45 record home and played it on the family stereo: “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud.”

What a cool song about black pride. James Brown was a leader in the Black community and encouraged us to stand up for our rights. The song reportedly came about when Brown witnessed infighting among Blacks in Los Angeles. “We’ve lost our pride,” he thought and went to his hotel room and wrote the lyrics on a napkin. The ’60s were a tumultuous time for race relations in America, and this song became an anthem for the black power movement.

The call-and-response style of “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud” was my answer to everything my parents asked of me. Gotta go to school, “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud.” Time for dinner, “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud.” Go to bed, “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud.” Today, I wonder what my parents thought about hearing their child recite that song lyric amid difficult race relations in America.

I recall the television news alert when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in April 1968. My mother brought us downstairs to face the reality of the significant loss for our community. What would it mean for the future and continuing to strive for equality? Were we at risk to suffer the same fate?

In high school in the 1970s, the song took on new meaning as a statement of who I was. Racial tensions were high as Blacks became frustrated with stagnant economic conditions despite advancements in civil rights. After graduating from college in the 1980s, the song was a push back to the establishment for me. While substantial gains were made through middle-class advancement and public employment, Black poverty and lack of education continued.

Greg DeShields across the Street from Westminster Abbey (UK Vacation 1981). Photo courtesy of Greg DeShields.

Now, “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud” is an undeniable confirmation of my pride as a Black person!

What started as Negro History Week in 1925 was expanded to a month in 1976. However, our pride and history cannot be told in 28 or 29 days. We live every day making a difference and contributing to society in our own way. I chose my career to make a difference in the tourism and hospitality industry.

Delores DeShields at Cromwell Place S.W. 7 London Street from Westminster Abbey (UK Vacation 1981). Photo courtesy of Greg DeShields.

During the 1980s, I traveled to London with mother and grandfather, three generations, sharing the love of travel. One day I awoke early and noticed my grandfather had left the room. We found him in the hotel lobby, sitting there watching people. He said, “what a long way we have come, black people sitting in a hotel lobby enjoying the experience.” He added, “if this is your career…do more!”

Now, in my dual role as Executive Director of both the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau’s PHL Diversity division and Tourism Diversity Matters, it’s my job to do more. Every day, I am focused on making the tourism industry more diverse, equitable and inclusive.

“I’m Black and I’m Proud.”

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