Black History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing the central role of blacks in U.S. history. Also known as African American History Month, the event grew out of “Negro History Week,” the brainchild of noted historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans. Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month. Other countries around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom, also devote a month to celebrating black history.
NVCC President Daisy Cocco De Filippis led the campus in celebrating Black History Month by opening each edition of the Weekly Bulletin with a poem to honor Black History Month.
January 30- A POEM TO REFLECT ON BLACK HISTORY MONTH:
The Negro Speaks of Rivers by Langston Hughes
February 5- A POEM IN HONOR OF BLACK HISTORY MONTH:
Ballad of the Two Grandfathers by Nicolás Guillén
February 12- A POEM IN HONOR OF PRESIDENT’S WEEK AND BLACK HISTORY MONTH:
Praise Song for the Day, A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration
February 20- A POEM TO HONOR BLACK HISTORY MONTH:
Second Spring by Audre Lorde
February 28- A POEM IN HONOR OF BLACK HISTORY MONTH AND KATHERINE JOHNSON
Katherine Johnson, a NASA mathematician whose career was portrayed in the book and movie Hidden Figures, passed away on February 24, 2020 at the age of 101. She graduated with highest honors from West Virginia State College in 1937 with a B.S. in Mathematics and French. Katherine was selected as one of three black students to integrate West Virginia’s graduate schools in 1939, though she left after completing her first year to start her family. Katherine Johnson was a pioneer for African Americans and for women in STEM. In 2015, President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor. More information about Katherine may be found here on NASA’s website.
Black History Month was celebrated at the college throughout the month of February by students, faculty, staff and administration. The Black Student Union (BSU) organized a series of events on campus in honor of Black History Month. Shakera Jones, Vice President of the BSU, commented on the preparation of an interactive campus calendar for the month. “As a club we decided hold Black History events scheduled for every week of February. The soul food cinema was influenced by the importance of local elections and how it effects the majority of us, while serving popular soul foods. Followed by a Students Speak series where the first presentation focused on outstanding African-American women who lead and inspire in diverse industries. “
Observing Black History Month, the BSU began with the Soul Food Cinema in early February. The event was a celebration of traditional soul food featuring the documentary, An Unfulfilled Promise: Today’s Voting Restrictions. Following the film, Professor Kathy Taylor facilitated the discussion of the PBS documentary. Taylor commented on the event, “As for Today’s Voting Restrictions, students viewed the documentary and we provided current examples of how some legislation is intended to increase voter turnout and participation while other ‘color-blind’ laws negatively impact voters of color and young voters. From that perspective, how can anyone possibly believe that voting doesn’t matter and has no impact? The mere passage of voting restrictions implies the importance assigned to voting. To make it easier for some and harder for others is undemocratic and we should be paying attention to how our country is changing since Shelby County v. Holder and the dismantling of the voting rights act of 1965.”
The BSU followed with an invitation to Congresswoman Jahana Hayes (CT-5), who joined the BSU in a follow up discussion. BSU faculty advisor, Elma Solomon, commented on the event. “Our students did a wonderful job in putting the program together. They have a strong sense of pride in their community. The Congresswoman is an example of the success that is possible. They wanted to recognize however, that the struggle continues and that their involvement can be impactful.” English Professor, Steve Parlato attended the event with his Literature Class. “Any reluctance I had in bringing my literature class to the conversation with Congresswoman Jahana Hayes—because we had poems to discuss—was dispelled by the level of interest my students had in the topic. The bonus was when, in our next class, a student made a clear connection between Hayes’s discussion and the works we were analyzing in class. This was just one more example of how the BSU’s commitment to offerings of substance has enriched my classroom experience.”
The calendar followed with Students Speak I: Focus on Women, where students researched and reported on black women who had made an exemplary difference. Shirley Chisholm, Fannie Lou Hamer, Taraji P. Henson, Angela Davis, Celia Cruz were among the biographies on which the students reported. Closing remarks gave the students a chance to acknowledge the leadership and example of their faculty advisors, Julia Petitfrere and Elma Solomon.
Wrapping up the Black History celebrations, the BSU hosted Students Speak II: Folklore, an event which was inspired by childhood stories of BSU club members and how they contribute to their cultures. BSU V.P., Shakera Jones summarized the events. “Overall, we held the events to educate and enlighten the faculty and students of NVCC while attracting new members to join our community.”
Jyrel Hawks, President of the BSU at NVCC commented on the events of Black History Month. “This Black History Month’s theme was Black People and the vote. Our first event was inspired by Professor Kathy Taylor’s speaking on voting rights and the efforts around the country to infringe on those rights. We felt it was very important to inform people on this issue, while also providing them with delicious food. The BSU’s second event on voting rights with Jahana Hayes was also a wonderful insight into the political system. We were honored to have Congresswoman Hayes join us, along with the women’s center, for our discussion of voting. The Students Speak events were inspired by the BSU’s initiative to get students more involved with our activities. The Focus on Women was to encourage students to speak about the Black women that inspired them, or research those who were under represented, in order to educate the campus about these women. Our last event “Folklore” was meant to have our students share stories from their cultures and educate the campus about the different stories that come from the African diaspora. Over all, we had wonderful turn out at all of our events. I am very proud of the work our club has done. I look forward to planning more events and attracting more members in the coming months.”