With 2015 now in the record books, a look back shows just how busy and…
African American History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by African-Americans and a time for recognizing the central role of African-Americans in U.S. history.
The event grew out of “Negro History Week,” created by historian Carter G. Woodson, and since 1976, the month of February has been officially designated as Black History Month. Other countries around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom, also devote a month to celebrating black history.
For those who might wonder why such a month remains necessary, NIU’s Katrina Caldwell has an answer.
“The events pertaining to racial conflict and struggle that have occurred across the nation, city and our community should be enough of a reason for all of us to invest time in learning about black history. However, if that is not enough, then the fact that many of us still live largely segregated lives and that positive change cannot happen until we step outside of our comfort zones should be,” says Caldwell, assistant vice president for Student Affairs/Diversity and Equity.
“I love Alice Walker’s quote, ‘Healing begins where the wound was made,’ because it speaks to the needs to revisit some of the painful aspects of our past in order for us to fully appreciate and continue the healing process. For me personally, black history is every day. I believe that it is a part of American history. One does not exist without the other. Sometimes the dark truths about our nation’s history can only be exposed and appreciated when we consider both.”
NIU “has contributed to the racial narrative in the surrounding communities and region,” she adds.
“Its place in that history should be explored and understood, so that the challenges that we currently face are put into context. For instance, if we as community have in the past come together to overcome a particular issue, then that history is a part of the fabric of who we are,” Caldwell says. “Our awareness of this history both prepares and empowers us to do it again.”
Black Heritage Month, a campus-wide event that celebrates the important historical contributions of African Americans, kicked off this week at NIU. With the theme “A New Age of Resistance: Respecting Our History, Defining Our Future,” the Center for Black Studies has arranged a variety of events that are relevant and engaging for all NIU students, staff and faculty.
“NIU is a university that prides itself on diversity,” said NIU senior Timi Adeboje, president of the Black Student Union. “The best celebration of diversity is to seek understanding of other cultures, and that is what Black History Month is. I would definitely encourage the entire campus to come out and take advantage of this; with learning comes a greater collaborative effort and a more united Huskie university.”
“I was asked to speak about defining our past,” Grace says. “My message was that we are at a time in the black community where we really need hope for the future, and we should look to our past for that. Hope is an expectation, it is a desire and it has gotten us through so much.”
Grace, who will graduate in May with a degree in political science, says it’s important to bring the discussion of hope and positivism to the forefront.
“Northern Illinois University is full of hope,” Grace told the audience during her speech. “Hope is the professor who has a family of their own but stays after hours to support student events. Hope is the student who goes to work after a long day of class to help out back at home.”
February is a time to celebrate the “life and legacy of history makers and trailblazers,” she adds, and that’s a reminder that if “our communities ever needed hope, it is now – and while our future is unknowable, our past should always give us hope.”
“We are proud of our black culture and we are proud of our history,” Grace says. “This is a great opportunity to show that.”
One way to celebrate is to take part in one of the many events scheduled throughout the month, including one organized by Grace’s sorority, Delta Sigma Theta.
“We are hosting a program on Feb. 11 about police accountability,” Grace said. “We want to engage our community in collaborative discussions, and we need to create a place where people can talk about their frustrations.”
Other events include a tribute to black women Wednesday, Feb. 10; a dodgeball tournament Saturday, Feb. Feb. 13; an examination of “Black Lives Matter” Monday, Feb. 15; and the Black Student Union’s “Mr. and Miss BSU,” Saturday, Feb. 20.
All events are free and open to the entire NIU community. For more information, call (815) 753-1709 or email CenterBlackStudies@niu.edu.
“It is important that we convey the message that Black Heritage Month is not just for black people,” Grace says. “There is something for everyone to learn, and if people take a chance to at least visit one program, they will take away something.”
Regina Curry, coordinator of the NIU Center for Black Studies’ Success and Succeed Plan (S-Plan), shared the sentiment.
“As part of the NIU commitment to be an inclusive community, Black Heritage Month is an important celebration of Black cultural expression and contributions to society,” Curry says.
“It is the hope that both the NIU community and the larger community attend events to experience programming and conversations concerning black heritage, the arts and social issues.”
Grace says she intends to do her part by letting friends know about what is planned and inviting others to attend events with her.
“I am telling friends to invite their friends and colleagues,” she says. “Offer to meet a friend at an event so they feel comfortable going. Black Heritage Month is for everyone. We need to have these conversations, and get our peers to better understand that.”