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Recognized every February, Black History Month means different things to different people.

To some, it’s a way of remembering people and events that are important to the plight of Blacks and other minorities. 

The month also is a cause for celebration — celebration of Black culture and the many contributions Blacks have made to American society. And, to others, Black History Month is a time to reflect on the continuing struggle for racial justice. 

To be sure, there has been progress. But it’s equally true that we still have a ways to go.

In reality, there is no one right answer or one right way to mark Black History Month. Everyone is free to attach their own message and their own meaning. 

For me, Black History Month is best summed up by four words: equity, unity, awakening and awareness. These words just seem to encapsulate the spirit of this annual tradition.

I’m often asked what each one of us can do individually to embrace the message of Black History Month and help us progress as a community and a society to overcome bias and foster understanding, acceptance and equal opportunity for all. 

My answer is always the same: introspection. To stimulate awareness, we need to look internally. Because the barriers to openness and diversity and inclusion live within each of us.

For most of us, it’s not intentional. It’s just that it’s natural to develop a preference for the familiar. It’s easier and more comfortable to gravitate toward what we know. But to do that ignores the fact that diversity is an asset, not a burden. The things that make us different also make us stronger. Because each one of us is unique and brings something different to the table. Together, we’re better and stronger.

So, what can each of us do? How can we spark an awakening and awareness that transcends race and ethnicity? Each one of us, we can get out of our comfort zones and make the effort to connect with someone with whom we might not ordinarily interact. Invite someone different into your world, and be open to them inviting you into theirs. 

If we can all do that, bias and prejudices will melt away, and we’ll all learn and grow from each other’s different perspectives and experiences. 

We’ll see that, deep down, we’re not all that different. And we’ll be a better, stronger and more unified community and society because of it.

Working together, in strength, unity, diversity and equality — that’s the message of Black History Month. Teamwork really does make the dream work!

— Girtman, of DeLand, represents District 1 on the Volusia County Council.

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