Willie Ratchford, the
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Community Relations executive director, has spent the last 41 years fighting for equity and equality by removing barriers that prevent marginalized communities from experiencing all that Charlotte-Mecklenburg has to offer. As we celebrate Black History Month, Ratchford shares his thoughts on the importance of highlighting the achievements of Black Americans and how knowing this history can inspire future generations.
What does Black History Month mean to you?
As an African American, Black History Month for me means that I get a chance to know who I am. It means that my children get an opportunity to know who they are. And to know that they too have history in this country. This country has not been kind, in terms of providing the story of people of color, of women and other groups. And so Black History Month gives us an opportunity to begin to know that story. In the work that we do around race relations, we have a saying that goes, ‘you do not fear someone whose story that you know’.
As groups who have been marginalized, who have been left out get an opportunity to show that this country is in their DNA, and they are in the country's DNA, and that benefits all of us and I’m glad for it.
Share a profound moment in Black history that resonates with you personally.
One of the most profound moments for me, as it relates to Black history, was the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States. I never imagined that I would live long enough to see an African American become president. If someone had told me 10 or 15 years before his election, that I would be alive to see that happen, I absolutely would not have believed it.
I think the importance of Barack Obama's presidency is that it serves as a significant example for children of color. They see that they too, can be President of the United States one day. There are no limits to how high they can climb or what they can achieve.
How can we continue to elevate the importance of the contributions of Black Americans?
We've got to stop only acknowledging February as the time to celebrate Black history. We need to acknowledge Black history 12 months of the year. The history of any country, or any group of people just doesn't stop with a short timeframe, like a week or a month. It is something that lasts forever. Our history is just as important as anyone else's history in this country, and it should always be recognized.
Learn more about
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Community Relations and its commitment to building a more fair and just community.