Ujamaa kicked off Black History Month (BHM) on Sunday, Jan. 31 with an evening convocation ceremony in the Daniel Family Commons (DFC). Its goal was to serve as a forum for Students of Color (SOC) to convene and discuss the common issues that the black community often faces, as well as how to go about combating them. The theme of this year’s Black History Month is “Unique in Our Blackness: One in the Struggle.”
“During this time, we honor the work that has been done in the past, the continued struggle and success of the present, and the bright future we hope to create for the Black community,” the Facebook event page reads.
The goal of Ujamaa is to establish a safe and supportive environment for SOC community, where they can work together to stand up against the injustices with which the black community is confronted. They are a student group that works toward a promising, more equitable future, while also commemorating their history and accomplishments thus far.
“This event is sponsored by Ujamaa, which is an African diaspora,” said Giselle Lawrence ’18, who was a disc jockey for the event. “I guess you could say a celebration of the black and African diaspora ethnicities. Ujamaa put together this convocation event for every student identity, and this event in particular, the theme I believe is one unity in our blackness.”
The event consisted of four speakers: Henry Martellier ’19, Joelle Christie Dupiton ’16, Bulaong Ramiz ’01, and the Right Rev. Dr. John L. Selders, Jr.
“In terms of who we selected for speakers, there are a few individuals that Victoria [King ’18] and I came up with in terms of freshmen speakers who have been involved in Ujamaa and who have really been standing out this semester,” said Hailey Broughton-Jones ’18, an Ujamaa member and a Dwight Greene Intern for the Office of Equity and Inclusion. “Henry was one of a few names that came to mind, and we were really excited to reach out to him.”
Martellier was equally thrilled about his involvement in the event.
“Convocation was an amazing time for me to connect with fellow African-American students,” Martellier wrote in an email to The Argus. “We all listened to the thought-provoking experiences from our peers that provided a new lens for the idea of blackness.”
Broughton-Jones explained how choosing the alumni speaker was an equally difficult task, given the vast network of University graduates.
“Selecting a senior was really hard because there are so many phenomenal seniors on this campus who can speak, but I think Joelle’s piece last semester in the Black Arts Collective, her open letter to the black community, really resonated with a lot of people,” Broughton-Jones said. “That was another factor going into selecting the senior speaker.”
However, Ramiz’s current position as Assistant Director of Student Activities and Leadership Development (SALD) at the University also made her an especially relevant candidate for the panel.
“With [Ramiz], she’s an individual who’s really involved with students and daily activities on this campus as a part of the SALD office,” Broughton-Jones said. “A lot of students go to her for mentorship.”
Regarding the selection of Bishop Selders, who works as an Associate Chaplain at Trinity College among many other clerical roles, Broughton-Jones described his support of University students, as well as his serving as a bridge between the SOC communities of the University and Trinity.
“As for Bishop Selders, he was featured on the [‘After Charleston: Next Steps in a Movement of Social Justice’] panel last semester, and he is a wonderful individual and a very accomplished activist who also connects with students in our community,” Broughton-Jones said. “We would [also] like to continue the conversation and continue our relationship with the [Black Student Union] at Trinity College.”
The event also involved other members of the University in different roles, including having a DJ at the event. This event, along with future events organized by Ujamaa for Black History Month, was a collective effort. According to Lawrence, the convocation was a celebratory way to start the month.
The event was organized in a setting different from many of the talks that are held at the DFC. Instead of the usual rows of chairs facing a lone podium and bright lighting, there was a set up that featured multiple smaller round tables, dimmed lighting, music, and food, giving the event a more intimate feeling. With the room set up the way it was, it could easily have been a large gathering of friends.
“We just want this to be a space for people to get to know what the theme of the month is, get to know blackness in different contexts—whether that means social media or political [contexts],” Lawrence said. “So it’s basically an introduction as well as a celebration.”
Whereas last year’s BHM theme stemmed from the Black Lives Matter movement and emphasized the wholeness and solidarity of the black community, this year’s theme centers more on the concept of the individual.
“This year, we’re focusing on the complexities of blackness,” Broughton-Jones said. “In an interracial context, [we’re looking at] what makes us all unique and [seeing] how these differences contribute to the overall definition of what it means to be black…and that we find strength within our differences and within the various privileges that we have as members of one group, which will factor into how we move forward.”
Other events occurring during BHM include the Spike Lee Film Series running from Feb. 5 to Feb. 7, Sunday Support Circles happening every Sunday in the month, the Self-Love Self-Care discussion on Feb. 14, the Social Media discussion on Feb. 16, the Be the Art Showcase on Feb. 18, and the SOC Formal on Feb. 19. Further, Saul Williams will come to speak on Feb. 20, and there will be a My Big, Black And Unapologetic Queer Love discussion on Feb. 25, and a Jubilee celebration of black talent on Feb. 26.