This year’s Black History Month, “Before 1619: Lineages and Legacies,” began on Friday, Jan. 31. Ujamaa, the University’s Black Student Union, worked with its first Black History Month committee, comprised of faculty, staff, and students, to organize this month’s events.
The theme was decided through Black History Month committee meetings with the goal of simultaneously focusing on cultural history and goals for the future. Ujamaa board member Kioni Marshall ’22 emphasized the necessity of not focusing solely on oppressive moments when celebrating Black history.
“A lot of the times when we have discussions about Black History Month, it’s consistently about slavery or about the Jim Crow era,” Marshall said. “It’s always about how we are being oppressed and not about how we overcame, how we are overcoming, who we were before all our achievements…. It’s always a focus on struggle. So we wanted to talk about our lineage away from that and the legacy that we are going to leave, because it shouldn’t always just be about the struggle because that’s not all Black people are. And so that’s not what all Black History Months should be about. So that’s how we settled on it this year.”
The joint committee allowed students to work closely with Black faculty and staff members, making the process of event conception and location booking easier. Director of Student Activities and Leadership Development (SALD) Joanne Rafferty, Associate Director of SALD Shelissa Newball, and Associate Professor of African American Studies and Chair of the Science in Society Program Anthony Hatch, are a few of the key non-student figures in creating this year’s Black History Month programming.
The Black History Month committee created February’s events, a change from past Black History Months, where the majority of event planning fell to students already faced with busy schedules. Marshall outlined the necessity of a joint faculty-student planning committee.
“Black History Month should be something that the school is doing, especially should be something that this school is supporting if they’re not going to plan everything themselves, because it needs to be clear that it’s not just a ‘The students want this, and so they have to do it,’” Marshall said. “It should be a ‘This is a mandatory part of each and every single year here at Wesleyan and here in the Middletown community.’”
The level of faculty involvement in organizing and planning alongside students this year has not happened in past Black History Months at the University. Marshall highlighted how this year’s Black History Month succeeded and outlined a hope for consistent future collaboration efforts between the University and the Black student body.
“That’s truly the goal for them, for the faculty members to do this by themselves and for the students, the students to be the helpers, the students, if they want to, add on to different events and have events of their own,” Marshall said. “Because it should, because especially before last year, it’s kind of a very stressful time because you know, there’s only what, eight, ten people on the Ujamaa board and we’re planning literally for the entire month.”
This year’s theme is divided into four sub-themes, one for every week of February: Religion and Spirituality, Technology and Innovation, Arts and Culture, and Moving Forward: Ideas of Afrofuturism. Ujamaa board member Samia Dudley ’20 spoke to why Black History Month’s organizers wanted to highlight different aspects of the overall theme.
“We wanted to make sure we touch on as many aspects of [Lineages and Legacies] as we could, and it’s just a lot to cover,” Dudley said. “We might not, even with the topics we chose, have covered it all.”
Each Sunday of Black History Month there will be a Sunday Circle, a place to discuss ways to come together as a community under a different topic each week. The first Sunday Circle, held on Feb. 2, focused on religion and community, in line with this week’s sub-theme of Religion and Spirituality.
For Technology and Innovation week, a maker space workshop will be held on Monday, Feb. 10, to teach attendees how to create digital art through Adobe Creative Cloud. Jubilee, the annual cultural showcase, will conclude Arts and Culture Week on Saturday, Feb. 22, and Rachel Godfrey ’19 will lead a discussion on Black sexuality on Thursday, Feb. 27 as part of the final week’s sub-theme of Moving Forward: Ideas of Afrofuturism.
“Tracing Lineages: Race, Gender, Food, and Technology” is a workshop taking place on Feb. 12. Marshall explains how Professor Hatch’s event is an example of a new event this year that incorporates information with a focus on interaction and involvement.
“Professor Hatch is doing the ‘Tracing Lineages: Race, Gender, Food, and Technology,’ which is an interactive discussion and a later cooking presentation on the intersections of race, gender, and technology and how these intersections bind Africa to contemporary Blackness,” Marshall said.
There were two notable events that began Black History month. The first was the Martin Luther King Commemoration Lecture on Jan. 31, featuring activist and artist Bree Newsome. The other was the annual Black History Month Commencement Ceremony that officially kicked off Black History Month with restorative justice advocate Fania Davis on Feb. 1.
A main focus this year was finding new ways to showcase talent within Black life at the University. Senior Advisor to the Ujamaa Board Inayah Bashir ’20 described the need to include interactive events alongside traditional discussion or listening-based events.
“We definitely wanted things to be really hands-on, like a lot of them are workshops, so like the vegan food is going to be like a tutorial, you know, so it’s not people just talking at you, it’s more like, ‘Oh, what can we produce from it?’” Bashir said. “Um, yeah, just cause people, you know, people, we get talked at in class, like, you know, like people don’t really want to come to things to just talk.”
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