Black History Month: A time to reflect and celebrate the black experience

Sabrina Scott

Despite racial tensions last year in Ferguson, Cleveland and New York City, Black History Month will continue to serve as a reminder to celebrate African-American history and the black experience in and out of the classroom.

Kent State’s annual celebration of African-American history started on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and will end with African Night on March 13 in the Kent Student Center Ballroom, said Mamadou Ndiaye, vice president of Black United Students and a senior computer information systems major.

Amoeba Gooden, chair and associate professor of the Department of Pan-African Studies, said it wasn’t until Kent State’s Black United Students, a group dedicated to promoting equality for African-American and minority students, proposed the expansion of the celebration from Black History Week in the 1960s. It then became Black History Month a month after the civil rights movement ended in the 1970s.

Carter G. Woodson and his organization called the Association for the Study of African-American Life History founded Black History Month in 1976, Gooden said.

“There are a lot of people who point out that the history of blacks does not start with slavery,” Gooden said. “It actually starts with the African past and coming out of great civilization.”

African-American history, Gooden said, is world history, and African-Americans have made significant contributions to shape today’s world.

“There are great humanistic lessons to learn,” Gooden said. “I think that a people that can survive the transatlantic slave trade and survive in ways that are creative and reinvent themselves and survive well. I think there are immense lessons to learn from their life experiences.”

Eugene Shelton, associate professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, said it is important for non-black students to learn about African-American history as racism still exists in the U.S.

“I think when you understand the people, then you understand what they have gone through — their struggles, their accomplishments,” he said. “There’s a greater appreciation,” Shelton said. “It is not just about the struggles or the oppression but it is also about the accomplishments of African-Americans.”

Unfortunately, racism remains a contested issue in America. It has become more prevalent after this past year’s events with Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner, said BUS Director of Academic Affairs Xavier Braxton.

Ndiaye said BUS is trying to unify the Kent State community by putting on events and inviting key speakers to transform campus in a positive manner by using education as an effective tool.

Braxton said the lack of black history being taught in the classrooms is something both student leaders believe is negatively affecting Americans.

“The history we are taught in the schools is with one perspective and one perspective only and that’s the rich, white man perspective,” Braxton said, “The history is not fair to only be told in one perspective. It is necessary to open your eyes and have an understanding of what it means from everybody’s point of view.”

Ndiaye said that it is impossible to not talk about American history without African-Americans having a significant part in it. Ndiaye and Braxton said that students should take a Pan-African studies class because it will deepen one’s understanding of black culture while diminishing ignorance about minorities.

“The reason why we have these tragedies where people are more violent toward black people and aren’t as remorseful when a black life is lost is because of their ignorance of black culture or black people and the entire black experience,” Ndiaye said.

Braxton said ignorance and recent tragedies should not overshadow the true meaning of Black History Month — a time to reflect and honor those who have shaped the face of the present.

“Unfortunately, tragedy is not new to the black community,” Braxton said. “With Tamir Rice, Eric Garner and Michael Brown, it does go on happening. It’s not too much to where we can’t get to what Black History Month is really about: celebrating the strides we have made as a people in this country.”

Contact Sabrina Scott at [email protected]