Students reflect on Black History Month, how it has faded since inception

Michael Lopick

Students agree Black History Month is important but believe it has lost meaning since its inception by Kent State’s Black United Students in 1969.

“I was the only female African American in my school from kindergarten all the way to senior year of high school,” said Roslynn Porch, president of Black United Students. “Every single February we learned about the same African-American figures, so I just got used to it. I didn’t feel excited about Black History Month anymore.”

Black United Students hosted “Let’s Talk About It,” an open dialogue about Black History Month, its meaning and other diversity issues on Wednesday, Feb. 12 in Oscar Ritchie Hall.

The discussion centered on whether students thought Black History Month was relevant to their generation. A panel with of student leaders from campus organizations such as Black United Students, PRIDE! and Focus on the Future, as well as College Democrats and College of Republicans, shared their opinions to help guide conversation.

Brandon Stevens, president of PRIDE!, thought Black History Month was declining in relevance because people believe the U.S. doesn’t have as many race related issues as when Black History Month first began.

“It may be losing relevance, but it is crucial,” he said.” The sad truth is we tend to forget about things we don’t see any more. Things may appear to be better on the surface, but there are still unresolved issues below it: We’re allowing ourselves to forget.”

Nate Lewis, president of Focus on the Future, believes Black History Month become more commercial instead of being about educating people.

“The problem I have is that it has become a way for companies to seem socially responsible in advertisements,” he said, “when it should be about educating people and connecting them to the past.”

Black History Month’s origins at Kent State

Black History Month began as “Negro History Week.” Carter G. Woodson, famous African-American historian, chose the week in February in 1915 because it marked both the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. In 1969, Kent State’s chapter of Black United Students first created the idea of expanding the week to the entire month of February. During the United State’s bicentennial in 1976, President Gerald Ford would officially recognize Black History Month by the U.S.

Panelists gave insight as to how students can begin to change the meaning of Black History Month from “just a month” to a year-round philosophy that encourages African Americans, as well as others, to celebrate their triumphs, remember their struggles and educate their peers.

Marvin Logan, director of programming for Undergraduate Student Government, said the best way for students to bring back the original meaning to Black History Month is for them to become “gatekeepers,” or people in positions of power who have influence over others.

“We have to ascend to positions that allow us to be gatekeepers,” he said. “We need to level the playing field so that we can begin to educate others.”

Porch agreed with Logan.

“If we don’t start empowering our community, Black History Month will die off,” she said.

Students in attendance enjoyed seeing people from different backgrounds talk about the importance of Black History Month and what it means to them.

Yatta Kandakai, junior fashion merchandising major, grew up coming to diversity discussions and believes that more students should make an effort to attend them.

“My mother works at Kent State, and when I was little, she would always bring me to discussions like these,” she said.  “I like seeing how people make connections. I feel like more students should come to discussions like this, especially during a time meant to celebrate diversity.”

Black United Students hopes to continue discussions like this on a monthly basis.

The organization invites students to tweet at @bus1968 using the hashtag “LetsTalkAboutIt” if they have any topics they’d like to see discussed at future events.

Contact Michael Lopick at [email protected].