Written by: Callie Prince (History, Class of 2017)
As students return from long winter breaks, the end of January seems a bleak and uncelebrated time. While walking through unplowed snow to eat at Mather once again, many students will wish to return to lazy days at home. For those of us involved with Multi-Cultural organizations or clubs on campus, the return to school also means extensive planning for Black History Month. February not only marks Valentine’s Day and President’s Day, but also an entire month dedicated to the celebration of African American History. The entire month is a time to dedicate oneself and effort to creating events that tie into this certain part of American history. For the Black Student Union groups this is an opportunity to work together towards a common goal on campus. However for many of us the stories of Madam C.J. Walker, W.E.B. Dubois, Martin Luther Kind Jr., and many more are repeatedly heard from kindergarten through High school. Everyone should know that George Washington Carver was a inventor and “The Peanut Man”, but also that Thurgood Marshall was the first African American Supreme Court Justice. However, this creates an interesting dilemma for planning Black History Month at Trinity. As members of the Black Student Organizations, it is our job to both lead the celebrating and sharing of African American history, while keeping the events relevant and engaging.
As the final schedule for Black History Month emerged, I realized a difference in this schedule than what I had seen before. The events we are not simply about remembering the suffering of past generations, but also about celebrating the successes in the community. And a large part of this success has been the collaboration of many different people on campus. The collaborators included groups outside of the three Black organizations on campus. “Breaking Boundaries”, the theme for this Black History Month, also can be seen in the types of events that are listed on the schedule. As I read the article that accompanied the publishing of the calendar, I realized the difference this year was the zealous embrace of celebrating intersectionality. Expanding February at Trinity to include the recognition and celebration of many different types of people.
The first event was an excellent example of the way that the ideals behind Black History Month can be made new again. The Liberation celebration was about connecting with our ancestors, recognizing the breaking of colonialism around the world, and the power of good food to bring people together. More obviously, even the food was diversified to include Soul food, some Jamaican options, as well as typical African dishes. While food may not be the focus of any event, it is important to these events and celebrations.
In his book Black Skin, White Masks, Franz Fanon discusses his understanding of what it meant to be the other: “It is when I go beyond my immediate existential being that I apprehend the being of the other as a natural reality”. While Fanon’s work always deserves a lengthy discussion worthy of his writing, I was reminded of his work when realizing that Black History month was an excellent time to embrace the “otherness” of all students who may fall into a minority group. It is important to acknowledge that struggle is a defining factor for all students, especially those who feel any kind of marginalization. And while the struggles of our African American ancestors cannot be forgotten and should always remain a part of African American History month, it is an interesting idea to embrace other struggles as well, both in the past and present. Furthermore, the support for marginalized students is growing and also becoming more diverse. Non-African American groups will support Black History month, just as men’s groups might participate in Women’s History Month events.
The topics of the Black History Month events also focus on many different types of struggles and successes. This is another aspect of the events for Black History Month that might strike a reader. Not only do they include other marginalized groups such as immigrants or those in the LGBTQ community, but they also address a wide range of issues. Such as mental health and substance abuse to the challenges of biracial relationships or family dynamics for poorer communities. Only months after the new African American History Museum opened in Washington D.C., it is exciting to think of the progress that has been made. The Black Alumni Organization at Trinity is growing and allowing for more events like Minorities in Stem that will be held at the end of the month. Connecting the generations is something that Black History month can always inspire.
In many ways Black History Month is about remembering the struggles and successes of our ancestors. Yet, it also provides incredible opportunities to celebrate cultural differences that might normally be overlooked but provide ways to create larger, more inclusive communities.