2020 is certainly a big year for anniversaries. The Fifteenth Amendment was established 150 years ago in 1870 which allowed Black men to exercise the right to vote. The Nineteenth Amendment was enacted 100 years ago in 1920, extending that same right to women. While Black History Month allows us to commemorate these momentous points in history, it’s also an opportunity to look around and take stock of the history being made every day! This month, our very own Black Cultural Center (BCC) is also celebrating its 1st anniversary and we took the opportunity to learn how this past year has impacted BCC staff and shaped how this space contributes to countless journeys on campus.
“Black History Month is an opportunity for the world to celebrate our blackness just as much as I am able to on a daily basis.”
One of the core characteristics of Black History Month is education. Meligha Garfield (he/him), Director of the BCC, didn’t always know that it even existed. When he was in elementary school, he remembers asking his parents, “why is there nobody like me in the history books and science doing great things?” which prompted them to prioritize sharing the stories of black inventors, scientists, entrepreneurs, lawyers, philosophers, poets, and more. For him, family was pivotal in opening his eyes to the inspiration of the past, and he isn’t alone.
JaTara Smith (she/her), Coordinator for the BCC and the African American Doctoral Scholars Initiative, recalls receiving similar encouragement from her family. She explained, “I cannot remember a time that I did not know about Black History Month. My family has shown me the importance of notating our history, and Black History Month is an opportunity for the world to celebrate our blackness just as much as I am able to on a daily basis.”
“Here there are no stereotypes to avoid or feel I’m being constructed as, and I have a community for the first time”
So what does Black History Month actually entail today and how does the BCC fit into the picture? Garfield believes that it “represents that black is not a monolith. We can be anything, despite what is promoted on news, television, movies, society or social media.” As the first Center of its kind at the U, the BCC has become a hub for this collective history: past, present, and future. As student Thandi Misiska (she/her) describes, “here there are no stereotypes to avoid or feel I’m being constructed as, and I have a community for the first time.”
During Black History Month, Smith encourages not just the folx who frequent the BCC, but the entire campus community to utilize this moment in “celebration how far we have come as a country,” but also implores us to learn more about Black history and the work still needed. Garfield adds, “read up on current and past issues and accomplishments Black people have had in this country. We have made major and small contributions to every façade of America… you are bound to find something interesting.”