Black History Month
Inspire. Remember. Share.
Black History Month, and more importantly, the study of black history, is greatly owed to Dr. Carter G. Woodson, who first launched “[Black] History Week” in 1926. Woodson chose February because it marks the birthdays of two men who greatly impacted the American black population. Abraham Lincoln (president of the United States who freed slaves during the Civil War), and Frederick Douglass (who worked to end slavery) have birthdays in February. The purpose of this month is to recognize the contributions of Black Americans and develop a better understanding of the Black experience.
First YMCA for African Americans
In 1853, a former slave and civic leader in Washington, D.C. named Anthony Bowen—who was also the first black employee of the US Patent Office—founded the first YMCA for African-Americans at a time when most organizations were deeply segregated.
Over the next century, hundreds of African-American leaders walked through the doors of the “Twelfth Street YMCA.” It’s where Langston Hughes lived while working as a hotel busboy, where Thurgood Marshall planned his strategy for Brown vs. Board of Education, and where NBA legend Elgin Baylor learned how to play basketball.
But the Twelfth Street YMCA wasn’t alone for long. The president of Sears Roebuck and Company in Chicago, Julius Rosenwald, donated more than $600,000 to build 26 YMCAs in 25 cities. By the mid-1920s, there were 28,000 African-American Y members at 51 city YMCAs and 128 college chapters.
President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month in 1976, calling upon the public to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history
First Lady Announces ‘Let’s Move’ at the Y
In 2010, as first lady, Michelle Obama launched the pillars of her “Let’s Move” campaign against childhood obesity at the Alexandria YMCA, a branch of the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington. This helped position the Y as an important ally in preventing chronic disease throughout the nation.
First African American CEO of the YMCA
Kevin Washington is the first African American President and CEO of the YMCA of the USA. He is a 38-year YMCA professional and has been an advocate and champion for equity and diversity throughout his career.
My Achievers Program
The My Achievers Program (MAP) started in September 2001 serving 25 youth and has grown to 14 sites serving more than 600 youth throughout the course of a school year. The program was developed as an effort to eliminate the achievement gap for students who face daily challenges due to racial/ethnic barriers, immigration status, and socio-economic factors. MAP is unique among the Y’s program offerings in that academic success and college readiness are the main focus for the program, along with developing leadership skills, empathy, social consciousness, and service to others.
The mission of MAP is to motivate and support students of color and immigrant students to achieve higher educational and career goals.
Why the Y Honors Black History Month
Here at the YMCA of Snohomish County, we acknowledge that complex contemporary and historic factors impact the well-being of our communities of color and contribute to the inequities we see across all societal indicators. We recognize and honor Black History Month as an interrupter of these systems by educating ourselves about the many accomplishments of historical and contemporary Black Leaders and sharing these achievements with others.
The YMCA of Snohomish County has always worked to meet the needs of our diverse communities and provide inclusive and safe spaces where all are welcome.