With several participating student organizations and a slew of events scheduled throughout February, organizers have said that this year's Black History Month celebration has been a success so far.
This year's theme is “All Power to All People: From Black Panthers to Pan-Africanism.” Some highlights of the rest of the month include a tabling event on Tuesday in the Diana Center to commemorate the anniversary of Malcolm X's last speech before his death—which was delivered in Barnard's LeFrak Gymnasium on Feb. 18, 1965—and a Feb. 28 performance of the “Black Monologues,” a version of the “Vagina Monologues,” featuring an all-black cast.
“We wanted to take this moment to reflect on what it means to be of African diaspora in America. We are fifty years removed from the major civil rights protests in the South but we are still dealing with these issues, still dealing with the Trayvon Martin case, the legal murder of Jordan Davis,” said Shondrea Thornton, CC '15 and one of the political and educational co-chairs of Black History Month. “We wanted to make a political statement that black history is still happening, it's still moving, and how we could take our place in it.”
Though the event was known as Black Heritage Month in last year's celebration, the organizers reverted back to Black History Month this year as “a political designation rather than a cultural celebration,” according to Thornton.
She said that organizers wanted to focus on “telling our whole story as opposed to accentuating the positive, which is the nature of heritage.”
Eberechi Ihezie, CC'14, another political and educational co-chair of Black History Month, said that there has been a great turnout for events so far—especially at the Jan. 30 opening ceremony—and that the month's events had garnered interest from many different groups of students.
“Our first discussion on multiculturalism attracted a very diverse crowd. We had Native Americans, white people, black people,” Ihezie said.
The month will continue with more events, including a fashion show featuring African culture and style, a Black Studies Forum that will discuss the study of black history, culture, and thought, and the Feb. 28 closing ceremony that will feature the performance of the “Black Monologues.”
“Black Monologues will tell some other stories that Vagina Monologues haven't had a chance to touch on,” Ihezie said.
“We have a mix of events that are showing what's happened in the past, showing our history, showing where we come from,” Ihezie said. “But we're also focusing on modern-day issues that also need to be acknowledged and addressed.”
In addition to the Black History Month committeee, many other student groups are planning activities for the week, including the African Students Association and the Barnard Organization of Soul Sisters.
After hosting a Black Love Week, which had events focused on relationships, last week, BOSS will host a tabling event on Tuesday in conjunction with the Student Government Association's Committee on Diversity, McAc's Multicultural Committee, and the Black History Month organizers to commemorate and discuss Malcolm X's last speech in LeFrak Gymnasium.
“Basically, [Malcolm X's] views about women had dramatically evolved during his time and that is something we will definitely be talking about at our table,” said Olukemi Adeniji, BC '16 and vice president of BOSS.
Melinda Aquino, an associate dean for multicultural affairs, praised the students' efforts.
“The complement of critical dialogues with celebrations, like BOSS' Black Love Week, conveys that BHM is about locating collective power, identifying where there is still a struggle to obtain power and agency, as well as securing and strengthening the love, pride, and power of self,” Aquino said in an email.
In addition to hosting events, Adeniji said that this was the first year Columbia had provided funding to 10 of its students to attend the annual Black Solidarity Conference at Yale, which wrapped up on Sunday, by paying for their registration and accommodation fees. Previously, Columbia students had to pay their own way to the conference, which invites undergraduates from colleges and universities across the country for discussions on issues related to the African diaspora.
“Columbia has never funded black students to go to this conference, but this year we were able to go,” Adeniji said. “All other Ivy schools would send black students, but Columbia has not done that in the past. The fact that we are able to get even this many people on board was a great thing.”
The organizers said that they were proud of the month's successes so far, but hope that most students leave the end of the month with a new perspective.
Thornton said she wanted students to walk away being able to “be critical of history, be critical of heritage, what it means to occupy this space now and not take ourselves out of the legacy that we come from.”
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