By Laura Weyman, Staff Writer
President Gerald Ford was the first president to recognize Black History Month and suggested to his nation, “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” Since this moment in 1976, the month of February was designated as Black History Month.
In The New York Times article, “Black History Month: Pressing Forward on the Heels of Progress,” actress Denée Benton said, “My ultimate dream is that these things — women’s history, black history — are so included in the core-curriculum narrative that we no longer need a separate time to celebrate it. I always say, when the day comes that I get to play Marie Antoinette as quickly as Eddie Redmayne gets to play the woman in ‘The Danish Girl,’ then I will be far more flexible. But I think we have a long way to go. This month at least gives people a time where if you bring up race, everyone doesn’t get nervous. In our country, people get very stressed out when you start talking about these things.”
In honor of this occasion, the Department of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) has come together with students, alumni, and staff members to create an annual event called Black Heritage Celebration Month. This month-long event is made up of a wide variety of activities, sponsored by a diversity of campus organizations such as MOVE, NAACP, the African American Sisterhood, and the Multicultural Greek Council. They have worked together to bring to the community events ranging from film showings and workshops, to dinner gatherings and lectures. These events are meant to be educational and empowering to those attending, such as the “Countering Racism Workshop” or the “Brown Bag Series: Mental Health in the Black Community.” Interim Director of the OMA Lucero Aradillas said that the events planned this year will, “give students an opportunity to engage with their peers in collegial conversations. At the same time, we come together to celebrate this year’s selected faculty, staff, students, alumni and student organizations to receive awards at our culminating event–the MLK dinner on Thursday, February 22 at 7:00pm in the Ballroom.”
This year’s Black Heritage Celebration Month is the longest one so far at the Armstrong Campus. Last year, the Black Heritage Celebration Month consisted of 27 programs, which was the largest line up at the time. February 2018 is surpassing last year’s month-long celebration by extending it to a month-and-half-long celebration that consists of 34 different events, which started in mid-January with the MLK Day Parade. All events are taking place in a variety of locations across campus (See schedule for details). Aradillas mentioned that participation in these events grow higher every year. “We have grown dramatically over the last several years, not just in the number of events during the month but the attendance at each. For example, this year we had 394 students signed up for the MLK parade, which is our largest ever, with about 250 actually showing up for it. This is a testament to the hard work and dedication of our faculty, staff and students, who want to be present in our community.”
In 2017, Nashia Whittenburg, the former director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA), described the intent behind this celebration as the following, “Our goal is to serve as a catalyst to promote the academic, social and spiritual celebration of black culture in Savannah.” All events are free and open to the public. Anyone is welcome and encouraged to attend.
Martin Luther King said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” These words highlight the importance of continuing this yearly event’s tradition, since it encourages the imperative narrative about America’s struggle with racial inequality to go on in a positive, empowering and educational way.