It’s not often that you’re asked to share your life story. I was honored and humbled to participate in a video oral history this week for our modern-day griot, The HistoryMakers. Visit their website (www.thehistorymaker.com) and you’ll find an amazing roster of African American achievers.
During my in-depth, three-hour interview, I reflected on my upbringing; career at BLACK ENTERPRISE; role in creating Milestone Media, a comic book company that spawned Static Shock and a universe of other multicultural characters; and the advancement of African Americans over the past three decades. It brought back events tucked away in my memory banks for years.
One of the most valuable aspects of this experience, however, was reinforcement that African Americans must continue to share our rich narrative with the world. For one, we must ensure our history is never marginalized. Moreover, it’s critical for African American youth to hear our stories so they can identify with real-life heroes who overcame adversity to make significant contributions in business, politics, medicine, technology and other fields. Such exposure will open their minds to embrace infinite possibilities.
For 20 years, this thrust has been a large part of the mission of Julieanna Richardson, HistoryMaker’s passionate, energetic founder and executive director. Based in Chicago, her non-profit research and educational institution is “committed to preserving on videotape and making widely accessible the untold personal stories of both well-known and unsung African Americans. Through the media and a series of user-friendly products, services and events, The HistoryMakers enlightens, entertains and educates the public, helping to refashion a more inclusive record of American history.”
Richardson received our 2014 Legacy Award at the Black Enterprise Women of Power Summit – along with civil rights activist Myrlie Evers, acclaimed actress Cicely Tyson, BE 100s CEO Valerie Daniels Carter and Barbara Graves Award recipient Marian Wright Edelman – as a result of building the nation’s largest archive of African American oral history – a 9,000-hour collection of first-person interviews. To achieve this feat, the HistoryMakers’ team has traveled to more than 80 US cities and countries to capture such testimonies. Its digital archive has been accessed by users in more than 51 countries. The organization also holds teacher training institutes and fellowship programs for professionals interested in maintaining African American archives.
Before offering my oral history, I asked Richardson about her latest milestone: Transferring HistoryMakers’ priceless oral histories to the Library of Congress. She beamed: “I’m excited. Now, we have the slave narratives and contemporary stories under one roof.”