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Macy's Marks Black History Month - 2002-02-22

The final days of February mark the end of Black History Month in the United States. New York's largest department store, Macy's, is wrapping up a series of programs, which pay tribute to the heritage of its African-American customers.

The smell of perfume wafts through the fragrance department. But the salespeople are not selling, and no one appears to be buying. Instead, nearly everyone in the large perfume and cosmetics section of Macy's is swinging --clapping their hands and listening to live choir music of a prominent local black church.

Members of the Macedonia Mass Choir normally sing in Harlem, the New York neighborhood known for its rich African-American history. But they traveled downtown to be part of an afternoon of passionate gospel music to celebrate Black History Month.

Macy's executive Monika Bella-Bragg says that while the department store is paying tribute to African-American history and culture, it is also catering to its significant black client base. "It's a salute, obviously to Black History Month, and the African American community is a very important customer to us," she says. "And it's our acknowledgment of that customer and it's giving something back to our community."

This year, legendary entertainer Harry Belafonte performed at the store. Dance troupes, art exhibitions and cooking demonstrations were also part of the special events at Macy's stores throughout the northeastern region of the nation.

Ms. Bella-Bragg says the programming for Black History Month is part of a larger trend to acknowledge customers' diverse background. For example, in September the store paid tribute to Hispanic-Americans.

Allegra Maple listened to a co-worker who performed with the Macedonia Mass Choir.

Ms. Maple says it is a pity that Black History Month is celebrated during one month, which happens to be the shortest and, in New York, the coldest of the year. "Sometimes, it feels like it's a token," she says. "Like I said before, it shouldn't be just one month, but they're trying. There is recognition, but it would be great if they would have it through the whole year, not just one particular month."

Nonetheless, Ms. Maple says that Black History Month is particularly useful for educating children along with the entire New York community about African- American heritage.