Africana events

Robin Huiras

While Americans around the nation are celebrating Black History Month, members of Africana — who comprise half of the African-American and African student population at the University — are working to ensure that annals of the past are not forgotten.
February marks the beginning of Black History Month. And while it is observed nationally and internationally, the issue remains open as to why a specific month needs to be devoted to honoring black history.
“Giving people better awareness of our contributions” is the goal of Black History Month, said Duane Johnson, vice chairman of the Africana Student Cultural Center. “But black history is going on every day. People are breaking barriers.”
A circle of about 10 students participating in a read-in on Monday at the Africana Student Cultural Center read and discussed literature by African and African-American authors.
The readings, which ranged from slave testimony to poetry, spurred discussion on different topics relating to the roles and images of blacks in society. The read-in also supported a national literacy campaign.
The Black History Month theme at the University this year is “Give Me Your Hand, It’s Time To Rise,” and while individuals think differently about the meaning of the month, many students feel it is empowering.
“It’s energizing us to go on with the next 11 months,” said Danae Curtis, the social-political organizing chairwoman of Africana.
Until 1926, the United States did not recognize African-American contributions. Only after a group of black and white scholars united to clarify misconceptions about black history did “Negro History Week” come about. The current celebration is an expansion of that week.
Sue Hancock, associate vice president for multicultural affairs and adviser to Africana, said no one she’s talked to thinks a single month is enough time to recognize black history. But until the time comes when black history is accepted and valued as a part of American history, one month will have to be specifically dedicated.
“It provides us a time to set aside and learn,” Curtis said. “But Africana history is not just for black people. It’s world history.”
Last year people of all ethnicities participated in the month’s activities and this year the events are again intended to be inclusive of all ethnicities.
“It is always my hope that we provide an opportunity for an open invitation for the University community to come and learn and experience the richness of the history of black culture,” Hancock said.
Africana has coordinated 15 events to celebrate this month. Generally the center holds about two events monthly. The majority of the events this month focus on education with an emphasis on literature and reading. Other events include musical presentations, cultural competitions and lectures on the struggles of certain groups and individuals throughout history.
“A lot of times people don’t feel like they are welcome (at the events), but it is an open environment,” Curtis said. “All of the events were designed to open and increase awareness of the whole student population.”
But the month seems to be increasingly overtaken by retailers. While it is good to use black role models in advertising, corporations should not be teaching history, Johnson said.
An example of this is when industries, such as McDonald’s and Coca-Cola, take on black spokesmen and traditionally black music in their advertising mechanisms during the month of February. A more recent example is the release on Jan. 20 of a Malcolm X stamp by the U.S. Postal Service.
Although different corporations add to the emphasis of teaching black history in February, the spirit of the month is continuous, Johnson said.
“It should be every day, 365 days a year,” he added.