Black History Month commemorates the impactful black leaders of our past and shines a spotlight of our everyday heroes. This is a time to reflect on eventful moments and to celebrate the people who continuously strive for justice and compassion.

United Way of Central Alabama celebrated this month by honoring their community heroes. Martina Winston, an active United Way volunteer, honored her grandfather with a heartfelt message. “My grandfather is my hero. His passion for his community was always attractive to me and I appreciate him every day for showing me the importance of serving people.” Her inspiration was close to home. 

Inspiration can shine from anyone that cares enough to show compassion for others. For Black History Month, it is just as important to celebrate the heroes next door as it is to celebrate the leaders in mainstream media.

After reading about Martina Winston, I reflected on the influential heroes who impacted my own life and community. Sheila Roberts, the district college career advisor at Madison City Schools, is one of my personal heroes.

As a high school student, I spent every morning in the library before classes began. Mrs. Roberts’ office was located in the library and she introduced herself one morning to me. Soon after, she inquired about my college aspirations. Coming from a low-income, first-generation college family, I worried college was beyond my reach because of the cost. Mrs. Roberts assured me of the scholarship opportunities available to me, and with her guidance I was able to attend college with minimal cost. She believed in me — and for that I celebrate her as one of my heroes.

The education opportunity gap separates black communities from their potential. United Way’s African American Leadership Society (AALS) has concentrated their efforts on education in black communities. AALS Project Manager, Kayla Babers, has led a team to distribute children’s literature to Iowa schools in an effort to boost children’s literacy. “It takes little, it takes planting little seeds to close those education gaps in those opportunity gaps,” Babers said.

United Way of Quad Cities celebrates Black History Month by having book drives, encouraging people to donate blood, and showcasing black heroes through a YouTube series called “Quad Cities Black Voices.” Like Martina Winston, Ms. Babers celebrates a family member who inspired her to give back to her community. “My mother exposing me to volunteerism at such a young age is where my passion for nonprofit work and helping my community started,” she said.

For Black History Month, reflect on the inspirational leaders that are nearest to you. Heroes are everywhere, in anyone. Take this inspiration and give it back to the surrounding community.

To get involved in your local United Way, find it here.

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