Celebrating Black History Month: Why it matters
Members of Black identity-focused organizations speak about the importance of celebrating Black History Month.
Black History Month began in 1925 as “Negro History Week” in the second week of February. Carter G. Woodson initiated it to capture the contributions of Black individuals. Negro History Week was celebrated during the second month of February. It wasn’t until Kent State University began the tradition of Black History Month, celebrating it between Jan. 2 and Feb. 28, 1970. Six years later, former President Gerald Ford formally recognized the heritage month during the United States Bicentennial. Now, Black history is also celebrated in the United Kingdom and Canada during February, and it is celebrated in Ireland and the Netherlands in October.
Azrin Awal, the President of the College Chapter of the NAACP at UMD support Black History Month because of its intentions of preserving history.
“Black and Brown history was essentially what made America. America was built on the backs of Black and Brown individuals,” Awal said.
While slavery is a crucial part of Black history, it is not the only part of Black history that should be taught in schools. Sandra Oyinloye, Mentoring and Engagement Program Coordinator for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, describes Black History Month as a time to “capture the lost story of the African American people” and their contributions to the United States.
“They don’t teach their Black kids their history,” Oyinloye said. “[The kids] learn their history through slavery. Slavery is not all of Black history. History doesn’t start with pain.”
The NAACP at UMD meets once per month, and each meeting is carried out like an event. On Feb. 6, the NAACP at UMD collaborated with the Duluth Branch NAACP to host “You Don’t Have to be Black to Be Outraged,” a panel that focused on people as Black allies. The panel was livestreamed using Facebook Live and Instagram Live.
Awal considers herself an ally and supporter of her “Black brothers and sisters.” Awal wants to stand in solidarity with other marginalized groups and work to encourage society to be more equitable, aware, inclusive and diverse.
“Putting down your siblings is not going to uplift you,” Awal said. “You can only uplift each other together. As another person of color, I want my siblings’ histories to be acknowledged, to be recognized. Just like I want my Asian American siblings during Asian Awareness Month to also be recognized.”
In light of Black History Month, the Black Student Association (BSA) has been organizing various events focusing on the Black contribution to music.
“Each year we pick a theme for Black History Month: Last year it was movies, this year it’s music,” Marquise Diamond said. Diamond is the president of BSA. “Our goals are to educate people on how African Americans have contributed to music and to show appreciation for Black artists.”
Last Saturday, Feb. 16, BSA hosted their jazz-themed “Soul Food” banquet. Their next free event is “Shazam: Name That Song” on Feb. 28 from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. in the Garden Room. Diamond describes the event as a “Family Feud of music.”
BSA is selling Black History Month merchandise including two different designs for long sleeve tees, t-shirts, baseball tees, and hoodies in several different colors. However, certain items will be sold for a limited time. All proceeds go towards funding BSA. You can find the different designs on BSA’s Instagram account @umdbsa, where they linked the merchandise orders in the account’s bio.