Black joy, representation and feeling seen: Celebrating Black History Month 

Written by Nate McMillion from the Diversity and Equity Center, edited by Star Diavolikis from the Publicity Center. Afterword by Janette Chien, director of the DEC.

This post is different than others on our site – this is us (the Publicity Center) partnering with the Diversity and Equity Center to let them use our platform. We do this in the hopes of helping educate others about Black History Month and to promote the upcoming events in celebration of it. 

How did Black History Month come to be? 

We have African American historian Carter G. Woodson to thank for the idea of Black History Month. The celebration of Black history was not always a month-long event, but instead started out as one week. In 1926, Woodson along with the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) initiated what was then known as National Negro History week. Woodson’s mission was to help school systems begin focusing on the topic of Black history. This week of celebration grew larger over time and gained popularity, making it evolve into Black History Month on many college campuses by the late 1960s. In 1976, President Gerald Ford officially recognized February as Black History Month within the United States. 

“…We can seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” – President Ford

The purpose of Black History Month is to celebrate Black individuals who have impacted not just the country, but the world, with their activism and achievements. In the country, the month-long spotlight is a chance for people to engage with Black histories, go further than discussions of racism and slavery and highlight Black leaders and accomplishments. It is important to note that Black history is American history, and one cannot separate the two. 

We at the Diversity and Equity Center wanted to honor the numerous contributions of those made by Africans, African Americans and those part of the Black Diaspora in our country and on our campus. For those who identify as a part of these communities, we hope that you take time this month and beyond to engage in whatever nourishes you and brings you joy. For those who do not identify within these communities, we encourage you to take the time to educate yourself, to listen, learn, reflect, and take action in ways that center the needs and wants of those within the communities.  

In celebration of Black History Month, the Diversity and Equity Center is collaborating with the Brooks Library and the Equity & Services Council student organizations’ Black Student Union (BSU) and the Central African Student Association (CASA). Our vision for this year’s programming was to focus on Black joy, representation and feeling seen. 

Some words and phrases that came up in our planning process were: 

Our hopes were to help build a strong Black community on campus, create connections, and share stories and experiences for those within the community. We wanted programming that focused on nourishing the souls, identities, and cultures of Black students. 

For those seeking education, we hope you attended our MLK Real Talk event on January 18, in which we held a conversation around the complex portrayal of Dr. King and his radical vision of equality, justice, and anti-militarism. We also encourage you to visit Brooks Library, where there is a pop-up of educational content related to Black History on the second floor, and a Black storytelling display of personal experiences on the first. 

What’s happening: 

Public displays at Brooks Library – All month 

Stories, objects connected to Black Joy, Representation and feeling seen 

Black students share a recollection of stories and objects about Black joy, representation, and feeling seen in a curated display at Brooks Library. The display will be up throughout the month. Make sure to stop by the library and check out the display. 

Additionally, there is a pop-up display of educational books and DVDs about Black History on the 2nd floor for students to check out. 

Kickback with the Black Student Union – February 4 

On February 4, our space in Black Hall, room 105, will be hosting a Kickback! come hang out with BSU and enjoy some great games, yummy snacks, and good company. 

Find Your People – February 18 

We are collaborating with Central African Student Association to host Find Your People on the 18th where students can come connect and engage in dialogue around their shared experiences across the African Diaspora. Both organizations are also putting on several events throughout the month on their own as well so make sure you’re following them on social media.  

Showtime at Central – February 26 

This event is our own spin on “Showtime at the Apollo,” where students can provide immediate reactions to the performance on stage – cheer or boo to your heart’s content! All is done in good fun. 

Afterword from Janette Chien, Director of the DEC:  

Heritage and history months can be complicated. We want to honor and uplift Black histories, voices and identities. But at the same time, we need to recognize the ways in which it can feel performative and/or tokenizing, and that one month is not enough to honor the legacies and achievements of an entire community and activism to date.  

At the DEC, we currently do not have any Black-identifying professional staff. I want to acknowledge that because of this, much of the emotional labor for planning these events fell upon our Black-identifying student staff. We felt that it was important to take the lead of and partner with students that identified as part of the Black community. I want to acknowledge the weight of doing such work that is so intrinsically tied to one’s identities and experiences. I want to honor the energy, time, thought, and care that these students gave to these initiatives.  

If you do not identify within the Black community, in many ways this programming is not about you. Our planning team wanted the events to be focused on building community within the Black community, and for events to be centered on Black joy, wholeness, and connection.  

As a non-Black person of color, I share reminders for myself and other non-Black folks this month and beyond: It’s not on the Black folks in our lives to educate us about Black history. We can engage with the abundance of resources and make a commitment to uplift Black voices, identities, and stories. I believe we do not need to personally relate to a person’s experience in order to listen, support, honor, and affirm their humanity. Black, Indigenous, and People of Color – we don’t owe anyone our stories.  

“If Black women were free, everyone else would have to be free since our freedom necessitates the destruction of all systems of oppression.” ― Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor 

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