Gladys Hall and granddaughter
At left Gladys Hall in 1939; at right, Gladys Hall and Sarah Bond in 1999.

Gladys Hall was born on March 19, 1925, in Atmore, Alabama, at a time when her prospects and those of her family were inextricably linked to the circumstances of her birth and race. Her father worked tirelessly to provide for his family. He ran a dry cleaning business from their home, where Gladys started working as a girl. She would meet customers out at their cars and carry their clothes up the hilly driveway back into the shop. One routine Saturday, men dressed in white robes and hooded masks pulled up in their car and asked 12-year-old Gladys where her father was. She quickly concocted a story about him being away and then ran up the driveway to warn him. Her father immediately fled out of the back of their home, in fear for his life, for simply the unchangeable fact that his skin was black.

That man was my great-grandfather. Gladys was my grandmother. She could have taken that early experience – and all the other obstacles she encountered growing up – and allowed it to build hate and resentment in her heart. But instead, she chose to focus on building a better future for herself and for others. Her life spanned a time when there were great advancements in civil rights, making it possible for her to achieve things beyond what her father could have ever imagined. At the age of 45, Gladys Hall achieved her lifelong dream of attending college, graduating with a master’s degree in education – and she became a teacher.

‘Progress is not inevitable, but driven by the choices that we make as individuals’

Black History Month is a reminder for us all to reflect on the richness of our history and the lessons it has taught us. Each year it helps us move forward a little further together, as one. The origin of Black History Month came as a response to black people being largely left out of the history books, despite the many significant roles they played. Since first being celebrated in 1976, February is now recognized around the world as a month to pay tribute to the accomplishments and contributions of generations of people who may otherwise have been forgotten. For me, it’s also a reminder that progress is not inevitable, but driven by the choices that we make as individuals. Choices like the ones my grandmother made.

This is one of the reasons why, for me, Microsoft is special. Our chosen mission is to empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more. Diversity and inclusion are core tenants of our culture and integral to achieving that mission. It is only when we empower everyone to realize their full potential – no matter the circumstances – that we reach our full potential as a society.

‘It is only when we empower everyone to realize their full potential – no matter their circumstances – that we reach our full potential as a society’

We kicked off Black History Month with our Blacks at Microsoft chapter ringing the Nasdaq closing bell on Wall Street for the third consecutive year. Throughout the month, Microsoft Stores around the globe will host Black History Month events, and if you live near one, I would encourage you to attend.

We have the power to choose how we think, how we speak, and how we act – and we can choose to treat each other with dignity, respect and inclusion as our path forward. I celebrate Black History Month by reflecting on this lesson that my grandmother – the teacher – taught me. It’s my hope that this is a lesson Black History Month can teach us all.

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