The Institute of Caribbean Studies’ (ICS) effort to establish National Caribbean American Heritage Month (NCAHM) began in 1999 with an outreach to President Bill Clinton asking for the recognition of August as National Caribbean American Heritage Month. This resulted in the first White House Caribbean American Community Briefing being held at the Clinton White House in 1999. Meanwhile, a now-defunct, ad-hoc group of Caribbean Americans led by Doreen Thompson organized efforts to get June declared as Caribbean Heritage Month in Washington DC. ICS joined forces with the ad-hoc group in June 1999, but by 2000, the group dispersed.
In June 2000, ICS took on the mantle of leadership in Washington DC, changed the name to National Caribbean American Heritage Month, and organized events in June under that banner. Efforts to engage the White House were fruitless. In 2001, ICS was joined by the TransAfrica Forum and the Caribbean Staff Association of the World Bank to organize events during June, promoting recognition of June as National Caribbean American Heritage Month, and the momentum slowly began to build. In 2004, the efforts gathered steam, when an Official Campaign for June as National Caribbean American Heritage Month was launched upon the tabling of a Bill in the US Congress by Congresswoman Barbara Lee, with language provided by ICS Founder and President, Dr. Claire Nelson. ICS worked with the Office of Congresswoman Barbara Lee to galvanize support for the Bill from organizations across the country and also organized events on Capitol Hill in recognition of June 2004. The Bill was reintroduced and passed the House in June 2005, and the Senate in February 2006.
A Proclamation making the Resolution official was signed by President George Bush on June 5, 2006.
Since the declaration, the White House has issued an annual proclamation recognizing June as Caribbean-American Heritage Month. This year marks the fourteenth celebration of June as National Caribbean American Heritage Month.
The campaign to designate June as National Caribbean American Heritage Month was spearheaded by Dr. Claire Nelson, Founder, and President of the Institute of Caribbean Studies. Through the commemoration of this month, we hope to ensure that America is reminded that its greatness lies in its diversity, with Caribbean immigrants from founding father Alexander Hamilton, to journalist Malcolm Gladwell, who have shaped the American dream.
Actress and Singer Sheryl Lee Ralph, of Jamaican heritage and basketball great Rick Fox, of Bahamian heritage, were named Official Spokespersons for the National Caribbean American Heritage Month in 2006.