This February, Ujamaa, the University’s Black Student Union, is commemorating Black History Month with a series of events centered around the guiding theme of “Black Joy.” In conjunction with this theme, events over the course of the month will range from a meditation and mindfulness session to panel discussions on the Black experience within different University realms.
The Ujamaa board includes, among others, members Inayah Bashir ’20, Samia Dudley ’20, Chelsea Dixon ’22, and Alice Swan ’21. In an interview with The Argus, Swan reflected upon the meaning of “Black Joy” and its significance to the celebration of Black History Month.
“‘Black Joy’ is something deeper than happiness—it means reaching a place of euphoria despite all of these challenges that arise with being a Black person,” Swan explained. “To me, ‘Black Joy’ is about being able to find strength in reality but also rejecting the idea that this reality cannot be bettered. If people never dreamt big or had hope, then nothing would have ever changed.”
During and beyond Black History Month, Ujamaa hopes to continue the discussion and consideration of how to carry “Black Joy” throughout their activism efforts. For Bashir, embracing “Black Joy” in social advocacy is a powerful form of resistance.
“It is interesting to unite around positivity instead of negativity. I think a lot of the time, especially in social justice activism, you see larger crowds having to come together based on oppression, based on the negative things that are happening—this person was harassed, this person was shot, this person was sexually assaulted,” expressed Bashir. “While it is important to rally in those moments, I think it is also important for us to remember that there are other ways that we can be united. Let us unite around positivity as well—and that in itself is a powerful form of resistance.”
The month-long celebration will consist of events ranging from cultural performance showcases, to alumni and student panels, to a discussion of “Black Joy” with Kleaver Cruz. According to the Ujamaa board members, the planning process involving arranging campus speakers and sorting out logistical details for the 14 Black History Month events began early fall semester.
“This year, organizing has really been a great team effort,” Dudley said. “Because we reach out frequently to individuals that cover various interest groups, there are so many wonderful contributing voices. A lot of our other collaborations have been with administration, the resource center and SALD, making the planning experience a relatively smooth process, which I really appreciate.”
In organizing events for Black History Month, Ujamaa has also worked closely with the African American Studies Department, which was recently granted department status via a full-faculty vote on Dec. 4, 2018.
“The Black History Month events are traditionally organized entirely by Ujamaa, and so it’s a wonderful chance for robust student-led programming,” Professor McAllister wrote in an email to The Argus. “This year, Center for African American Studies (CAAS) helped fund and co-sponsor Marc Lamont Hill, and co-sponsor the other events, such as the STEM panel, and the Black Joy presentation.”
In the future, the Ujamaa board hopes to engage more individuals by creating a planning committee to coordinate events over the course of the month.
“We are striving to create a Black History Month planning committee—that way we can get interested alumni involved and most importantly faculty and the student voice,” Bashir said. “We still want to maintain how much student voices can sway matters in planning, but we still want to make sure we are using the right resources and reaching out to more communities.”
Ujamaa board members also spoke about the ongoing dynamics of social activism, as well as how Ujamaa intends to approach cultivating meaningful relationships and a sense of community during Black History Month and beyond.
“I want to meet people where they are at—some people coming into Wesleyan may not be as socially justice prepared, you may be or you may not be,” Bashir said. “At times I feel like it can be really overwhelming for people who never really had these complex discussions in public spaces. We want to build relationships that are strong enough so we can begin to have these honest discussions.”
On Friday, Feb. 1, Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, one of the leading intellectual voices in the country, came to speak on campus, marking the formal commencement of Black History Month. The Ujamaa board members expressed that Hill’s words about celebrating unity resonated with them in thinking about the various identity group dynamics on campus.
“Dr. Lamont Hill’s words really tied together a lot of themes of unity and the strength and joy in building community,” Swan said. “He reminded me of the many identity clubs on campus and opportunities to collaborate and unite with them!”
The Ujamaa board hopes to see a great turnout from different communities across campus to their events during Black History Month and beyond.
“Moving forward, I hope to see increased unity and support of POC on campus by showing up to each others’ events,” Swan said. “We would also like to see more collaborations between groups rather than separate planning so that we can continue to cultivate community and a supportive network of students on campus.”
Serena Chow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.