A drum circle led by Jesse Wright started the kickoff of Black History Month that continued through the afternoon of Feburary 1st in the Student Union.
The kickoff continued with culinary joy and discussion. Ears and eyes went to keynote speaker Dr. Cheryl Easley, Dean of the College of Heath and Social Welfare while noses went after the cornbread and collared greens nearby. Misha Morgan sang the Negro National Anthem to close out the ceremonies.
According to Marva Watson, Black History Month has been celebrated at UAA for twenty-six years.
“We’re going to keep celebrating… we are a multicultural environment, an institution and a campus of inclusion, so we want to celebrate all ethnicities,” Watson said.
Originally created in 1926 as a vehicle to promote the nation’s awareness of black culture and achievement, Black History Week evolved into a month-long celebration fifty years later.
Sarah Birmanns, a language teacher at Chugiak High School, takes a passionate stance on the subject.
“Historical systemic oppression has created a hole in popular knowledge. Even scholarly knowledge is lacking in data and perspective due to the limited and doctored records and histories of black Americans over the past five centuries. The void in our history as Americans can still be filled, but only if we devote special time or energy to that goal,” Birmanns said.
In 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder was heavily criticized for a speech on race during Black History Month.
“Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot,” Holder said, “in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards.”
Regardless, Black History Month has honorable intentions behind it. It originated as a special occasion of focus and opportunity. Black History Month aims to educate youth from elementary to university level about the culture, merits, and dynamic history of an influential and inherently strong race of people.
It’s been commercialized as much as any other annual celebration that happen throughout the year: TV and radio ads feature famous African Americans selling things and ideas, promoting awareness. While in February, there’s special focus on Black History at UAA.
“It’s not uncommon to see something going on every month,” said Marva Watson, Director of Diversity & Compliance, who helped organize this month’s events. “There’s usually something in some type of a venue whether it be film, song, dance, or readings.”
UAA has celebrated Black History Month for twenty-six years running. Students involved with the Black Student Union (BSU), AHAINA, Dr. Dewain Lee and others worked together to plan events this month. Rounding out February, the last event is the Snapshot of History presentation featuring the film “Black Wall Street” on February 24th.
“It was very nice to see,” Watson said. “This was the collaboration in supporting our students in leadership to bring forth… it’s that type of role modeling and support and guidance that makes really all of this experience even richer. We want them to be proud of their heritage. Everyone should be proud of their cultural identity and to celebrate (it) and for all of us to embrace it.”
Ashleigh Gaines, president of BSU, summed up her purpose for the student group.
“If you don’t know where you’re coming from, you don’t know where you’re going.”