Harness Celebrates Black History Month 2023

As Harness celebrates Black History Month, we’re honored to share the unique perspectives of a few members of our team who have graciously shared their stories. 

Published on
2/10/23

By Ashley Despanza, Chris Deshazor, and Corryn Hutchinson 

February is Black History Month, a time to honor the achievements and contributions of people of African descent in the United States throughout history. Black History Month took root in 1915 when the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), in collaboration with the scholar and historian Dr. Carter D. Woodson, developed a week-long celebration of Black History. According to the ASALH website:

“We continue [Dr. Woodson’s] legacy of speaking a fundamental truth to the world–that Africans and peoples of African descent are makers of history and co-workers in what W.E.B. Du Bois called, ‘The Kingdom of Culture.’” 

Black History Month is a time to celebrate and reflect on a powerful legacy deeply rooted in the rich heritage of the African Diaspora. It means an opportunity to spotlight the vast contributions — from scientific advancements and technological innovations to creative achievements and political progress — and publicly recognize their impact on global history. 

As Harness celebrates Black History Month, we’re honored to share the unique perspectives of a few members of our team who have graciously shared their stories. 

Ashley Despanza 

Staff Security Analyst

Ashley Despanza

How do you celebrate Black History Month?

I celebrate Black History Month by educating myself and sharing with others. Throughout the year, I buy books, watch documentaries, and listen to podcasts on a variety of subjects that interest me. In February, I make it a point to focus on things relating to the Black Experience. Since it is Black History Month, I feel that others are more open to taking in new information. As such, I share as much as I can on social media to highlight the contributions of African Americans. 

How do you celebrate Black History all year round?

I make it a point to support Black-owned businesses. Any city I travel to, I visit Black-owned restaurants and stores. Most of the art in my home is by Black artists. A lot of my clothing represents Black pride. A majority of the books I own are by Black authors and come from Black-owned bookstores. Around Christmas in 2020, I cut all of my hair off to go natural. I decided I was going to be unapologetically Black, all day every day.

What’s one way people can be a better ally to you?

Learn, support, share, and speak up. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. 

Learn more than what is taught in a basic history class. We are so much more. I'm currently reading “The Three Mothers: How the Mothers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin Shaped a Nation.” I'd also suggest “The Good Ally,” “The Warmth of Other Suns,” and “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.”

Support Black-owned businesses. One of my favorite artists is Chuck Styles. A lot of my clothing is from Actively Black. One of my favorite authors is Peniel Joseph.

Share anything and everything that highlights Black culture or Black history. 

Speak up when you see something wrong. Have conversations with your family and friends. Vote for people who understand that systemic racism is real, thriving, and want to dismantle it. 

Get comfortable being uncomfortable — because we are. 

Chris Deshazor

Director, Talent & Organizational Development

Chris Deshazor

What does Black History mean to you?

To paraphrase Maya Angelou, you have to know where you have been to know where you are going. I truly believe in that statement. Growing up, schools would teach about Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, but not much more. Black History is a celebration of Black culture and Black excellence. It is learning about those that came before me and paved the way for today and the future. 

What’s one way people can be an ally to you?

To be a better ally, simply learn about other people. Have conversations and remember the human. As we get to know each other, we can learn more about each other. That’s what makes this world great. Our differences bring us together and we can learn from and about each other.

Tell us about someone you look up to and why you admire them.

The role model that I admire is my mother. Simply stated, she lives a life of service. Serving by giving is important even if it’s family, Girl Scouts, the Red Cross, or others in the community. Serving unselfishly is important as we learn about others and bring this world together.

Corryn Hutchinson

Vice President, Integrated Marketing

Corryn Hutchinson

Is there an unsung hero in Black History that had a lasting impact on you? 

In middle school, we had an incredible school counselor, Kasimu Harley, whom I admired a lot. Mr. Harley was (and still is) a huge advocate and mentor for Black kids in our community. He continuously encouraged and empowered us in so many ways — from creating our student Science Bowl team that competed in the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers (NOBCCHE) competitions, to supporting the arts in the Black community, to introducing us to leadership programs like Camp Anytown and helping us get involved with the Anti-Defamation League. 

A Veteran, a teacher, a spiritual healer, a bridge maker - he taught us that the Black community is dynamic and diverse, to embrace our individuality and the value of self-determination. Mr. Harley carried himself cooly, confidently and unapologetically through all spaces. Leading by example, he reminded us to always “keep our heads up” and be proud of our culture, skin color and heritage. He helped foster a love of art, science, self expression, and mindfulness in a way that resonated with underrepresented Black students.

Throughout my adolescence, he continued to provide me with positive support and council. He encouraged me to go to an HBCU (Historically Black College and University) at a time when most of my teachers only found merit and prestige in Ivy Leagues and the University of California system. Mr. Harley was a public school employee, on a humble mission to help uplift and enlighten a generation of kids — and for me that was everything. Listen to him on this Podcast

How can people be an ally to the Black community?

The best way to be an ally to the Black community is by listening with intent for understanding, and by doing the important work to continuously educate yourself — without putting the responsibility on the Black people around you to be your teacher or guides. There are so many resources to tap into to help enrich your knowledge of Black history and the African Diaspora: podcasts, movies, TedTalks, books, museums, and more

Get involved with your local community or organizations in ways that leverage your skills and interests. For example, if you’re an engineer, get involved with Black Girls Do STEM or Black Girls Code. If you don’t have time to give, consider donating to the UNCF or an HBCU like Howard University.

Lastly, it’s imperative to understand the difference between empathy [the ability to understand and share the feelings of another] versus sympathy [feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else's misfortune]. Don’t feel like you have to fully comprehend the plight, struggle and progress of Black people if you haven’t directly experienced it. Instead, be open to acknowledging our differences, celebrating our contributions, and honoring our history and heritage. 

Continuing the Celebration of Black History

In keeping with one of our core Harness values to “remember the human,” we love to amplify our employees’ unique voices. We hope that the stories and experiences shared leave you with a deeper appreciation of the achievements of the Black community. 

Representation is a critical component to empowering diversity and inclusion, which in turn creates a more equitable and successful workplace for everyone. Let’s continue to celebrate and uplift the voices of Black people all year round! 

For those interested in learning more about Black History, here are some resources to explore: 

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