New partnership brings Black history to life through Google Assistant

Dr. Carl Mack’s calendar makes it easier to know what happened in Black history every day of the year.

“Hey, Google, what happened on this day in Black History?’’ is a term that might become a daily ritual for many people across the country.

Thanks to a new partnership between Google and Dr. Carl Mack, publisher of the Black Heritage Day Calendar – a comprehensive flip calendar that highlights 366 notable African Americans and African American accomplishments, more than 500 million people can get a daily dose of Black History utilizing Google Assistant.

Just prior to Juneteenth, the Google Assistant team unveiled the new feature that allows users to receive information on Black history by date. By saying “Hey Google, what happened on this day in Black history?,’’ you are met with a unique verbal response, which is powered by the information contained in Mack’s calendar, that will provide you with a brief narrative of Black History that occurred on that day.

There are two ways that you can utilize the feature. The first option is by asking what happened today and the second is by asking what happened on a specific date in Black history.

For example, asking what happened on Oct.8 in Black history will solicit a response about Powhatan Beaty, who was born into slavery on this day in 1837, but later gained his freedom and moved to Ohio, where he proved his talent as an actor.

The feature is accessible on more than 1 billion Google Assistant-enabled devices, including smart speakers, phones, TVs from LG and Samsung, Chromecast, watches and many popular soundbars.

Inspiration for calendar

According to Mack, the inspiration for the calendar stemmed from a conversation that he had with a white co-worker back in the 1980s, who was asking Mack about a historic Black figure that he never heard of.

“One day [my co-worker] came to work and he was talking to me about this guy, Henry Flipper, who was the first Black to graduate from the West Point Military Academy. And [he’s] looking at me like I know who this guy is, and I had no idea who [he] was talking about,” recalled Mack. 

“I literally felt ashamed and embarrassed that this white man knew more about my culture than I did.”

The interaction led Mack to learn more about Black history and over time become a Black historian in his own right. After some years of doing research, Mack decided to share his knowledge more broadly, so he produced the original version of the Black Heritage calendar in 1992.

“I shared [the Today In Black History feature] with close to a hundred people and their level of excitement is insane,” says Mack. “It is off the charts, but they come back to me and every one of them, my mama included said, ‘If you didn’t tell me this, how would I ever know it existed?”

Connection with Google

While Mack’s initial intent was to share his information with the world, he had no idea that he literally would be sharing it on a platform that reaches hundreds of millions of people on a daily basis.

“Did I think that 30 years later, the research that I did on Black history would now be on the Google Assistant, and that 500 million people around the world could access it?” says Mack in awe of the achievement. “That is just where God says big, God means BIG.”

The connection with Google came from one of Mack’s mentees, Justin Steele, who works for Google. Mack sent a copy of his calendar to Steele looking for feedback.

Unbeknownst to Mack at the time, Google was in the process of looking for content that they could feature every day that was in line with their efforts toward diversity and inclusion.

According to Beth Tsai, policy director for Google Search and Assistant, Mack’s calendar was a perfect fit for what they were trying to do.

“We felt like it was very important to raise awareness about the Black community and about important figures in the Black community that often don’t get attention,” said Tsai.

“The beautiful thing about Dr. Mack’s calendar is it looks at the parts of the story that like most people aren’t aware of, it tells us about important moments in Black culture and Black history,” added Tsai.

“It tells us about contributors who are not your big names. [It] helps people understand that bigger picture. And for us, that was the compelling moment here. Here’s a chance for your average Google user who doesn’t know anything about these things to really jump in, learn more and learn in depth.”

For Mack, who previously served as president of the Seattle King County NAACP and was the former executive director of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), the opportunity for people to learn about and appreciate Black history is a tremendous step toward self-knowledge and pride for African Americans, and a chance for others to see and understand African Americans in a way that is not readily found in traditional American history books.

“You just learn something beautiful about our history and you know, the reason why it’s important to me, [is] because I know what knowledge of self did for me,’’ Mack added.

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