Black History Month: Reflecting on the Past & Celebrating The Leaders of Today

In this solo episode, Donald reflects on what Black History Month means to him, what CEOs should share during this month regardless of their political beliefs, and why he’s investing in a new company that’s focused on amplifying the true superheroes of our communities.

The Donald Thompson Podcast is hosted by The Diversity Movement CEO, mentor, investor, and Diversity and Inclusion Consultant Donald Thompson, who was recently named to the Forbes Next 1000 List.

Donald Thompson on Black History Month


Jason Gillikin:

Hey everyone, you’re listening to the Donald Thompson Podcast. This is Jason Gillikin, CEO of Earfluence which produces this show, and I wanted to come on to share something newsworthy and awesome before we get to a DT solo episode on Black History Month.

Earlier this month, Donald Thompson was honored to be on the inaugural Forbes Next 1000 list!

This first-of-its-kind initiative celebrates bold and inspiring entrepreneurs who are redefining what it means to run a business today. Congrats to DT and everyone who made that inaguaral Forbes list.

Now, let’s get to the episode, where DT talks about what Black History Month means to him, what CEOs should be doing about this month, and why he’s investing in a company that’s amplifying the real superheroes of today.

With that, let’s get right to the show.

Donald Thompson: So, one of the things I think about when, you know,  I think about what Black History Month means to me is, you know, first, it starts a little skeptical and then it’ll get to the positive. So, it’s the shortest month of the year. So, that seems like, thanks for the month, but it only has 28 days, sometimes 29. But, then when I flipped to the positive, celebration of accomplishment, celebration of progress is important. It is, without question, that we have a long way to go. And it’s very easy to focus on the negative narrative of how far we have to go.

But I think that narrative can also cloud the fact that the first African American in the history of our country for Secretary of Defense is African American. It clouds the fact that we see more people of color that are now serving in high positions within, whether it be government, or business, or education, that we are more than just entertainers now. When you think about Jay Z as a rapper, that’s one persona, but he’s a billion dollar businessman. When you think of LeBron James as a basketball player, you need to flip the script and think about the fact that he’s sending hundreds of kids to school; that he opened a school to create more opportunity.

And so the voices that we have within black history that’s being created now, we’re now starting to stand truly on the shoulders of giants that have fought for us in the past and create an acceleration that is exciting to see. I’m not naive about the progress or lack of thereof, when we still have African American males that are being murdered in the street on live television. But I don’t want that disappointment to cloud the fact that we’re making amazing strides.

And we can do two things at once. We can work on what is wrong and enduring and needs to be fixed while we amplify the progress that’s being made. We’re smart enough, we’re good enough, we’re strong enough to do both.

So, you know, when CEO’s are looking to honor Black History Month and really the, the narrative of positive and progress. And it doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat or Republican. The fact that Kamala Harris is our first female, African American Vice President of the United States of America, should be applauded.

We sometimes allow the narrative that we don’t agree with to cloud the amplification of the most important component. And so now when we take that success and now look as a CEO in business, CEOs’ jobs, my opinion, outside of that financial bottom line, is to create an openness for learning. So who are the organizational pillars in your company that are growing, changing, being promoted, leading the charge, right, in your company that are people of color?

And if you don’t have those examples, what are you doing about it in a positive way? Because we’re all at a different place in the journey to create an environment where multicultural experiences are valued, where promotions are truly merit-based. Not based on where you went to school or the country club that you’re a part of.

So as a CEO, your job is to create the environment of learning of openness so that we can continue to accelerate the progress we need to make.

So, one of the things that has helped me in my career, and I’m in, I have privilege in this respect. In the jobs that I’ve chosen in my career, I’ve selected jobs, not just on the financial opportunity that I could see, but based on choosing managers that were willing to mentor me. And so, I’ve had a very good experience of working with people that saw me and my potential and were willing to invest.

So, I think the biggest challenge that African Americans face in the business arena is access to people that can show them the unspoken things they need to know to advance. Everybody knows go to school, get a good education, get good internships, pick a field and a market that’s growing, right? These are, these are things that are now more commonplace sets of information, right?

But, who’s telling you to work on your verbal communication skills so that you’re a better public speaker? Who’s talking to you about the assignments that you take and the jobs that you take, that it’s better if you have P and L responsibility than if you are in a job that you don’t have direct impact on the bottom line of the business.

So, who’s talking to you about the things you wouldn’t necessarily get in a classroom that help you move forward in an organization that you’re working on? We talk about mentorship, we talk about advocacy, and these things are really, really important to achieve, but who’s talking to young professionals about how to be a good mentee?

And so these are some of the things I think we need to work on as we help people have the opportunity to advance on their merit. Part of that, or what are the unspoken rules of success that you need to know?

You know, when you think about moments and you think about finite periods of time, right? You think about the month of February and Black History Month. But what we really need to think about is how we have really altered the true narrative of what’s happened in our country and how we’re teaching our children an incomplete view of our history. And I think it is really, really important for, from an educational construct, that we talk about the wins and the losses of how we’ve treated one another.

And some of it is not pleasant. When you look in that mirror of how our country was built on the backs of people of color, whether it’s our uh, people that were here before us, our indigenous people of our country, right? Who were not only treated in a manner that was egregious, but their land and their history was stolen.

Right? America was actually built on stolen property. Right? If we want to talk about law and order and different stuff like that, right? And then, you think about the plight of African Americans in different things. But learning about the tough components of our history should inform us how to be better, not try to deflect on whether these things occurred or not, or who was at fault or not.

But when you increase the level of understanding of our past so that we can change our behaviors in the future, I think that’s a good thing. We have to have a more complete education and training around our American history, such that we can be better in the future.

And so I think that’s one of the bigger components, because if you don’t believe, because you’ve never been taught that the 13th Amendment didn’t completely abolish slavery, it had a loophole that if you were in prison, you can be enslaved again, then you don’t understand systemic racism. But, someone has to give me the opportunity to know that complete history so that you can process it appropriately. Understand how the rules red lining in the real estate space, right, to where people of color were not given the same opportunities to buy homes in the same neighborhoods.

Then you can understand why people over a period of hundreds of years not only feel disenfranchised, but are pretty pissed off. But if you don’t understand that lineage of pain, then you only see the progress and then you can say, “Well, why aren’t they satisfied? Things are pretty good. We have a Black president.”

I remember people talking about that when Barack Obama was, “We have a Black president, everything should be great.” Um, not so much. But the point of the matter is our history can inform our current state and help us be better in our future state.

I’m so excited that the, the people of our country get to see leadership through a lens of what our country in America looks like. And again, I’m all for political disagreement and people opposing and supporting things based on the merits of their political beliefs.

Right? Like, that argument on ideas, right? Like, that’s, that’s good. But I also think you can have those arguments while we promote the good in the successes. Another thing that I’m really, really proud of, and even though I don’t know all of the different athletes, there was a time when, when you thought about the NBA, there was this narrative of African American males making a lot of money playing sports, and thugs.

Right? And now, if we look at all of the different foundations that are created by today’s athletes, all of the give backs to the communities, all the things to reach back and lift up, I think it’s super powerful. And so, I’m glad to see the transformation of the imagery of our athletes, of our leaders.

When I think about business and I think about the opportunities that have been created as we grow, I’m going to look and see in my– there’s a book. I’m going to see if I can get it really quick. And his name is Reginald Lewis. And he was one of the first, if not the first, African American billionaires. And I know about that because I studied business, because I’m always looking for those examples, but that’s not something that is part of the educational process in our country.

To think about what this gentleman created during his life, right? He passed away in 1993, but this was one of the autobiographies that I remember looking at and reading as I was in school in college. That was inspiration to me. And that is really, really important. So we want to be able to create new superheroes, but those superheroes might not always just be on a comic strip or a football field. They should also be in the C-suites of our companies.

One of the things that when we talk about our history, and one of the things that’s been helpful for me, is I do think in terms of the opportunities that my parents provided for me and my sister, and it creates a sense of responsibility for what I need to provide, not only for my kids, but for others, is what have you gained that you should share?

And that’s something that’s really important to me. And that’s one of the reasons that, you know, I recently made a, an angel investment in an organization called Substantial Media. And, they have close to 5,000 subscribers focused on Eastern North Carolina now, but ultimately will grow into a statewide and a national media firm.

But the reason I invested in this firm, the reason I took the money that I earned and put it into a business, is because in the media the narrative for who we are as African Americans is controlled, managed, manipulated. We need to learn to tell our own stories. And so when Greg Hedgepath talked to me about his dream and vision for this magazine, we talked about the superstars next door.

So it’s phenomenal to celebrate LeBron James, but what about the gentlemen in Eastern North Carolina that saved his money; janitor, plumber, and sent three kids to college working two jobs? That’s a superhero also. And so we don’t want to leave behind the superstar next door just because they’re not on the nightly news. And Substantial Magazine is working towards delivering that kind of uplifting, motivational, educational content so that we can start to tell our own story in words and phrases and visuals that amplify the superstar next door and the African American people of color; the communities that the media oftentimes overlooks.

Jason Gillikin: That of course was Donald Thompson. You can find more of what he’s doing by visiting,, or

And for more information on Substantial magazine, tune in next week because we’ll have Greg Hedgepeth and editor Evelyn Del on.

This podcast is edited and produced by Earfluence. If you want to know how podcasting can help you amplify your voice and engage your community, we’d love to hear from you. Head on over to or email us at

Thanks for listening everyone, and we’ll see you next time on the Donald Thompson podcast.

Full Episode Transcript

Music for this episode provided by Jensen Reed from his song, “You Can’t Stop Me”.

The Donald Thompson Podcast is edited and produced by Earfluence. For more on how to engage your community or build your personal brand through podcasting, visit

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