The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many aspects of daily life and forced several annual events to be done differently in the name of public over the last year, but Gwinnett County Community Outreach Director Shaunieka Taylor doesn’t see the disease as a roadblock to celebrating Black History Month.
It just means the same activities have to be done in a different way.
“Although it has been a challenge, it has presented us with an opportunity to find a way to recognize the influence of the African-Americans, past and present, in our community in a creative way,” Taylor said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created an environment where people are asked to wear face masks and practice social distancing, with limits placed on how many people can attend an event, and that has affected the way Black History Month is celebrated this year.
Gwinnett County government has shifted to a largely virtual format for celebrating Black History Month this year.
The county’s John Lewis celebration on Monday is one example of the balancing act officials are trying to do to celebrate African-American history in February while still following public health guidelines. While there were a limited number of people present in person, county officials promoted watching the live event online to the general public so social distancing could be maintained.
Other examples are the Black History Month displays that would have been set up in the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center throughout February in any other year were instead done virtually this year.
Sports commentator and former Atlanta Hawks player Mike Glenn set up an exhibit on the history of African-American voting rights, and the struggle to get them, in a studio and the county’s communications department made a video of him explaining the pieces. That video was distributed on the county’s social media pages. Glenn’s memorabilia is traditionally the main part of the GJAC Black History Month displays.
The video is the only way to see it this year.
“I hope (viewers) will learn to be better citizens and to help develop the beloved community that Dr. King so often talked about, which of course includes justice for everyone, everybody’s opportunities to be the best that they can be and reach their talent,” Glenn said in the video. “So, I think it will help teach people lessons to be better citizens and just go about their daily lives better, and be inspired to be better scholars and students of history and what happened before us.”
The county government will also release a virtual Black History Month program on its social media channels on Thursday to highlight the history of the county’s African-American community, including Black-owned business and African-American churches and community groups.
“We, as a team, thought through some ideas on how we could still give people an experience without taking away from the experience,” Taylor said.
Other groups have also used video to do presentations that would have otherwise made in person if a pandemic was not taking place.
A display that Ann LaFavor and her group, The Family Gwinnett, traditionally does at GJAC to highlight African-Americans who hold elected office was also switched to a virtual format this year. An event the group normally does in February as well will instead be done in the fall this year because of the pandemic.
“As a culture, we always tend to adjust to the situation,” LaFavor said. “Like, with this year, we still did the display, but made it virtual.”
Lawrenceville Boys and Girls Club Executive Director Rory Johnson said the club has turned to virtual means to do much of its Black History Month educational activities.
Children who come to the club have been coming in dressed as famous figures from throughout African-American history. They are then videotaped giving presentations or reciting speeches. Those videos are, in turn, being shown to the other kids in their classrooms.
In a non-pandemic year, those presentations would have been done live with everyone gathered in the club’s gymnasium.
“I let them know, ‘You all are actually making history yourselves because we’re in this pandemic and this is actually a new way of expressing ourselves and seeing it from a different lens, and actually from you all’s perspective,’ “ Johnson said. “This is all new, so this is all history being made as we’re actually going through this.”