Mastercard’s Les Matthews on the Importance of Black History Month

Originally published on LinkedIn. Les Matthews is Mastercard’s Executive Vice President and Head of Services for North America. Mastercard ranked No. 5 on The Fair360, formerly DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list in 2021.


As the new global sponsor for LEAD (Leading Employees of African Descent) at Mastercard, I’m pleased to kick off Black History Month. While often considered a U.S. designation, I want to make sure we extend the ideas of celebration, inclusion and achievement to all of our employees of African descent globally.

When I think about Black History Month, I see it as an opportunity to engage with the history that gives context for what’s going on today. It’s also an opportunity to better understand the contributions of Black people throughout the history in the U.S., as well as an important opportunity to understand that Black history goes well beyond those borders and is a result of the African Diaspora. When I use this lens, I broaden the scope of contribution, resulting in a much fuller, inclusive picture of what Black history really means.

For me personally, Black History Month has always been an opportunity to consider the contributions of my ancestors and predecessors who paved the way with their ingenuity and resilience starting as free people from West Africa before they were captured and brought to the U.S. sometime in the 1700s. Despite the challenging circumstances and environment at the time, they went on to build lives for themselves in the south before migrating west to where I was born. My Black history is the history of America; people who innovated out of necessity demonstrated tremendous creativity and established a foothold that would guide generations to come. This is the same for many of the African Diaspora around the world in whatever country they live. All our Black histories are interconnected.

This amazing network of people all around the world from the Americas to Africa to Europe, Asia and beyond leave legacies of invention, humanity, politics, arts and more. In fact, it takes only a small amount of research to understand that Black people are in part responsible for many of the comforts we likely take for granted today. I encourage you to do a little digging to understand why you are secure at night, who’s responsible for the P in your PBJ or perhaps that glass of whiskey. I also encourage you to engage with and get to know your colleagues of African descent and learn more about their history, where they are from and why this month is important to them.

To honor the kick-off to Black History Month, after my workday ends, I’m going to make myself a sandwich, set my alarm and settle in with a glass of Uncle Nearest. What are you going to do?