Coordinated by Ujamaa, Wesleyan’s Black Student Union (BSU), this year’s Black History Month (BHM) celebrations began on Tuesday, Feb. 8 with the Black History Month Kickback celebratory event at Malcolm X House, which introduced students to the full month of events the group has planned. The month-long celebration involves programming efforts on behalf of both students and faculty, including the BSU executive board, WesWell, the Office of Support, Healing, Activism, and Prevention Education (SHAPE), Student Involvement, the Resource Center, and the Wesleyan Student Assembly. The theme of this year’s Black History Month is “Joy: Healing Beyond Survival,” and seeks to celebrate Blackness above all else.
“We’re getting tired of having to only speak about Black trauma anytime we have to talk about Blackness,” BSU Freshman Liaison, Communications Liaison, and Events Coordinator Kyla Danquah ’25 said. “All of our events were especially important because [they are] a chance for us to relax.”
BSU Social Justice Coordinator, Community Outreach Coordinator, and Events Coordinator CJ Joseph ’25 explained that the programming aimed to focus primarily on celebration and acknowledgment.
“We wanted to have [a] good balance because we feel as if we don’t always get to celebrate just being us in an open and welcoming community,” Joseph said. “Especially after the past two years, a lot of people have been looking at Black lives as just Black trauma. We can’t deny the fact that trauma is part of who we are, but also we don’t want to paint the picture that that’s all we are…. We have trauma. We have happiness. We have creativity. We have anger…. This is all part of who we are…as a community.”
BSU Events Coordinator and Co-Treasurer Daëlle Coriolan ’24 echoed Joseph’s sentiments, emphasizing the importance of being able to celebrate the month as a community, especially after the events of the past two years.
“I also think we’ve had a really rollercoaster year, especially with COVID and quarantine and…the Black Lives Matter movement just spiking up in 2020,” Coriolan said. “Last year, everything had to be on Zoom, and this is the first year where we’re…able to celebrate in person with each other, and I think that makes a big difference.”
While Coriolan highlighted the importance of celebrating the events in person, members of the BSU planned in a flexible manner. Danquah explained that the BSU had been prepared for events to be moved online if the University’s COVID-19 restrictions did not allow for in-person gatherings.
“Everything was online last year…so this year we were very intent on making sure we had events for people,” Danquah said. “Every person who made an event has a virtual backup in case things go bad…. Luckily we’re able to have events in person, so I don’t have to worry about that, which is awesome.”
Alongside the celebratory and educational purposes of this year’s Black History Month programming, Coriolan shared that one of the BSU’s overarching goals is to strengthen the Black community at the University.
“The Wesleyan Black Student Union, Ujamaa…could be a lot more than it is right now, and having these events and these programs [shows] people we’re stronger than what it seems [and that] you’re not alone on this campus,” Coriolan said. “I think that’ll be a great way to market the club and have people actually show up to events and want to contribute.”
BSU Treasurer Christina Onuzuruike ’24 agreed, stating that she is thankful for the safe spaces created by the BSU and hopes to create a lasting impact on future Black students at the University.
“Ujamaa and Black History Month overall have done a really good job of allowing me to find safe spaces and be comfortable,” Onuzuruike said. “I’ve met so many cool people because of it…. I’m just hoping that with Black History Month and Ujamaa…all these events going on can create a catalyst so students who are younger than us will come to the campus and not feel isolated [but rather] can feel comfortable.”
Joseph is especially excited about “Loving While Black,” a two-part event that she helped plan. The first portion of the event will be a healing circle for BIPOC held at 5 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 18, while the second will be an educational activity and presentation open to all students at 5 p.m. on the following Friday, Feb. 25.
“Valentine’s Day can be a very interesting time for those that are Black at a PWI [predominantly white institution] [and] for all…people of color at a PWI,” Joseph said. “The first [section] is only for BIPOC, and it’s a healing circle where we’ll be discussing how we [feel] as if our dating life might be affected by our race and by our skin color. And then the second one is an educational event for everyone. We’ll be discussing how society statistically views those of darker skin colors…. We’ll be discussing fetishization and just overall sexual racism in the dating industry and dating apps.”
Danquah is looking forward to the BHM Artist Showcase, which she spearheaded the planning for. The showcase will be held in WestCo at 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 19 and aims to highlight Black musicians on campus, songs by Black artists, and Black music as a whole. She encourages all students to come have fun while hearing performances from Black artists.
“I wanted to plan the Artist Showcase to give Black artists a chance to come to express and publicize their music [and to give] a chance for people to perform Black music,” Danquah said. “Whether it’s jazz, R&B, rap, or even just performing songs by Black artists…. The Artist Showcase especially is a chance for everybody who is not only Black to be able to come and listen to music.”
The Black Student Union will also be hosting additional events throughout the month, like the Black History Month Party, which will take place on Saturday, Feb. 26 at 10 p.m. in the Malcolm X House Lounge. Danquah underscored the importance of the Black History Month Party and Artist Showcase as spaces for communal celebration.
“The Artist Showcase and the Black History Month Party…are really important to me [and] I think a lot of us, especially with what we have to deal with in the world,” Danquah said. “Everything that happened in 2020…. I’m kind of getting tired of having to deal with this issue all the time. So the Black History Month Party was really important to me [especially as] a good time to just relax and have a party.”
Another event, co-sponsored with Bon Appetit, is a book signing and pop-up event with author and CheFarmer (Chef and Farmer) Matthew Raiford. The event seeks to link modern sustainability, agricultural, and culinary practices with Black food culture. The event will take place at noon on Tuesday, Feb. 22 at Usdan Marketplace.
Joseph encouraged students who might be hesitant to attend this month’s events to open themselves to engaging in educational and healthy discussions.
“A lot of the conversations that we plan on having can be very deep and can be very hard,” Joseph said. “We don’t want [non-Black people] to think that it will be a place of judgment, because what we want to have is an open conversation discussing our biases…learning about why they’re there, and learning about how you can overcome that, because if you shy away from that conversation then you might not be able to learn and grow…. We want [people] to understand why [biases are] here…so you don’t risk hurting someone in the future. There’s so many…things that come with being Black that we just want to share, and we want people to be able to hear that.”
With the BHM programming underway and numerous events to look forward to, Onuzuruike explained the ongoing importance of celebrating Black History Month at the University.
“If there isn’t representation, students can struggle to understand the importance of diversity and the importance of knowing our history,” Onuzuruike said. “[Wesleyan] is a predominantly white institution and sometimes the history that created this institution…becomes erased and ignored and it makes it difficult for people on this campus to feel safe or comfortable. Black History Month is important so not only do Black students have the ability to feel safe and enjoy a month…but it’s also about other students being able to realize the beauty in being black, the beauty of the diaspora, the beauty of a group that has been through so much.”
Kat Struhar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.