We are nearing the end of Black History Month. A time of celebration and reflection. A time to remind ourselves of the accomplishments of Black people from across the African diaspora. A time to learn about whom these creators are and how they have influenced every aspect of the world around us.
This year, I found myself pondering the question, “How can I truly honor the influence of Black history in my everyday life?”
I challenged myself to set aside time from the hustle and bustle of my day. And then use that time to highlight the unique contributions Black people have made to the world. And what better place to start than the Universe around me?
I set out on a mission to identify pieces of history that help shape the Universal Orlando Resort experience. I teamed up with illustrator Nneka Myers to create custom illustrations of what I saw. Only 26 years old, Myers made history by creating the first Facebook stickers to feature a Black character. Her character “CeCe” has animated many of my online conversation. And now I am honored to have the same artist bring these reflections to life.
This January, the Universal Orlando African-American Network joined our Diversity and Inclusion Team in the 33rd Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Parade in downtown Orlando. Every year, our African-American Network unites team members to march in celebration of the legacy of Dr. King and other Civil Rights leaders.
Because they marched then, we were able to celebrate in the streets, hand in hand, on a beautiful Saturday morning.
Stilt walkers danced in the streets as team members pulled out a few moves of their own. The stellar drum line from our Universal Studios Super Star Parade guided us, playing each beat with more enthusiasm than the last.
Universal’s Mardi Gras is Rooted in Culture
Did you know that Louisianan Black Americans created many of the Mardi Gras traditions we love today?
For example, the flavors of creole cuisine. These dishes blend French flavors with bold African spices and a dash of Southern flair. Each bite creates a culinary roadmap to the region’s history.
Zydeco music tells a story as well. The genre started from the talented hands of Black musicians. They used simple washboards and their voices to entertain their families. Now their eclectic melodies have become embedded in American Culture.
One of the most notable features of the traditional parade is the beautifully adorned costumes. These labor-intensive masterpieces pay tribute to the Native American hospitality shown to Black Americans who sought refuge.
Much like the original celebrations, Universal’s Mardi Gras pulls from these same influences. As I walk through the French Quarter Courtyard in Universal Studios, the tantalizing spices of gumbo fill my nose. Zydeco rhythms consume me, and I can’t help but wish I was the girl on stilts, adorned in sequins.
As night falls, our parade fills the streets. Keeping with tradition, yet telling new tales, each Universal float paints stories of mythology and themes from around the world. At this point, it’s clear that finding Black history around me is quite easy. The only reflection left unresolved was whether to give into the temptation of a beignet or funnel cake bites.
Entertainment and Music
Hard Rock Café Captures Moments in History
I don’t know if it’s the rotating pink Cadillac or the glittering exterior that I enjoy the most! Each visit, I can’t help but notice all the memorabilia that adorns the restaurant, gift shop, and next door at Hard Rock Live. Tonight, I would do more than just notice.
Late greats like Jimi Hendrix and Prince each continue to live within these walls. On display is not only their music but also their amazing sense of style.
A classic Prince purple blouse. Bootsy Collins’ sunglasses. Fur from George Clinton. A Diana Ross bracelet. Jimi Hendrix’s guitar. And the sharpest suits from James Brown all adorn the walls.
The iconic belongings highlight how these artists dared to be different in every way. They cultivated sounds, constructed musical arrangements, and penned lyrics that were uniquely their own.
The industry tried to put them in boxes based on their race and to deny the influence they had on their contemporaries. But they continued to innovate. Despite the challenges, each of these musicians defined the music of their generation and helped build Rock and Roll, Pop, and Funk music to what it is today. Their stamp is forever woven into the strands of popular culture.
I felt honored to be surrounded by their greatness—and also a bit inspired for my next shopping trip.
To be continued….
These are just a few examples of Universal experiences rich in Black culture. Black history is all around us, constantly occurring, and never in short supply.
After this experience, I compiled a list of places that I still need to explore. I will continue to reflect on the history that surrounds me, and I challenge you to do the same. This history is found in your physical environment, but also within the hearts, talent and minds of people that surround you.
In my case, I found this to be true about my fellow Team Members. Listening to the stories of my peers and our inspiring leaders is evidence of history being made today.
So, where will you go? Who will you meet? After all, Black History is Universal.