Black History Month is a time to reflect, celebrate, and honor African American culture, histories, and achievements. As we collectively navigate our present day, it is important that we acknowledge and honor our past, while stepping powerfully into the possibilities of our future. As “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (The Black National Anthem) goes:
"Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun"
Black History Month originated as the brainchild of historian Carter G. Woodson in 1926.1 Originally a week-long celebration, it was expanded to a month on the occasion of the Bicentennial in 1976. Marking the occasion, President Gerald Ford urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history”.2
Yet nearly half a century after Ford’s proclamation, there is still so much to do in recognizing the contribution of Black Americans to our culture. And businesses are well-placed to help ensure that happens. In fact, a major survey of attitudes to different institutions found that business is now more trusted than the media, government and even non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and is the only one of the four seen as ethical and competent.3
How New York Life celebrates Black History Month
At New York Life, diversity, equity & inclusion is embedded in programs across the company, and each year we engage employees in celebrating diverse groups’ history and heritage months, beginning with Black History Month.
For 2023, the BOLD (Black Organization for Leadership and Development) Employee Resource Group is hosting several events, including a Black History Month kick-off event with Martin King, head of impact investments at New York Life, discussing our Impact Investment Initiative. Grammy award-winning Hip Hop legend Grandmaster Flash will be making a stop at our home office on his Birth of a Culture tour – a cultural and educational tour discussing the history and birth of Hip Hop. BOLD will also be hosting Planning BOLDly, part of a discussion series on wealth building, as well as a Heart Health walk-a-thon at our home office (with a virtual option as well).
“One of BOLD’s goals is to create a pipeline of future leaders"
—Joyce Okoth, co-chair of BOLD employee resource group
“One of BOLD’s goals is to create a pipeline of future leaders,” says Joyce Okoth, one of BOLD’s co-chairs. “My first year at New York Life, I organized a keynote speaker event featuring Dr. Terrence Roberts, one of the Little Rock Nine. In the following years, I was provided with more leadership opportunities that built my confidence. Five years later, I lead a team of 13 and have been chosen to co-chair BOLD, along with my colleague Robert Williams III.”
Adds Williams, "While being part of BOLD I have been enrolled in career development programs, broadened my network, received exposure to senior leadership, but equally as important I also have had the opportunity to give back. Just prior to becoming co-chair, I produced a financial education series for our membership, which has been very fulfilling."
Supporting diverse communities
The support for diverse communities extends beyond New York Life and into the community – we believe financial security and inclusion is vital to creating better opportunities. To that end we have more than 1,200 agents serving the African American community whose mission is not just to sell life insurance, but to help families understand the importance of building a legacy for the next generation. We also back our beliefs through actions: in the last 10 years, 28% of our grants, or more than $50 million, has funded programs and services supporting the African American community.
Last year, the- New York Life Foundation announced the addition of social justice as a third focus area, joining the longstanding pillars of childhood bereavement and educational enhancement for middle school students. Inspired by a long tradition of service and humanity, the Foundation has always supported underserved and diverse communities. The formalization of this third pillar acknowledges an established commitment to address societal issues in communities across the country where New York Life policy owners, agents, and employees live and work.
We’re proud that New York Life’s diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts are recognized externally. Last year we were featured among Forbes Magazine’s Best Employers for Diversity. We were also honored to be named as a Seramount Pinnacle Inclusion Index Organization for 2022. The list highlights companies with superior achievements in their DE&I efforts.
Learn more about the New York Life Foundation’s social justice efforts here and New York Life initiatives related to DE&I and social justice, including the company’s $1 billion impact investment initiative to help address the racial wealth gap, here. New York Life’s 2021 Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Report can be found here.
If you’d like to learn more about how we create a culture of diversity and inclusion at New York Life, read more here.
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1“About African American History Month”. African American History Month government website. Accessed February 02, 2021. https://africanamericanhistorymonth.gov/about/
2“About African American History Month”. African American History Month government website. Accessed February 02, 2021. https://africanamericanhistorymonth.gov/about/
3“Edelman Trust Barometer 2021”. Accessed February 02, 2021. https://www.edelman.com/trust/2021-trust-barometer