Not enough time to talk history

Steven Bushong

K ent faculty presented opinions on the past, present and future of the black experience. Still, some questions went without answers.

PHOTOS BY DANIEL OWEN | DAILY KENT STATER A panel of Pan-African Studies faculty discussed the black experience last night in an event presented by Black United Students as part of Black History Month.

Credit: Adam Griffiths

The black experience is everywhere, said speakers at last night’s panel discussion in Oscar Ritchie Hall.

As part of Black History Month, Black United Students brought together nine distinguished Pan-African Studies faculty to discuss the life and history of black people and what needs to be done to preserve it.

Of the 16 questions prepared for the panel, only eight were asked. The answers were long, but necessarily so, as the panel revealed during the course of the discussion.

Dylan Sellers, freshman political science major, set the panel’s tone.

“A professor once told me, ‘Don’t wake a black person up if they don’t have anything to do,'” Suthers recalled to an audience of at least 100 people. “Well, this is your wake-up call.”

Ashley Colliver, freshman fashion merchandising major, and Sasha Parker, president of BUS, moderated the panel.

They attempted, but failed, to keep the panelists’ responses to fewer than two minutes.

“(Mwatabu) Okantah made a good point,” Parker said after the discussion. “He said to understand one topic, you have to understand another. Even though their responses were long, they answered the questions.”

The first question posed by the moderators was what “interpreting the black experience” means.

“What isn’t the black experience?” asked professor Fran Dorsey.

The panelists, prompted by the open-ended question, spoke for more than a half hour on the topic.

Instructor Idris Syed drew an African connection among all of Earth’s population.

“All people are from Africa, whether you’re black or white,” he said. “That’s something that’s not taught until you get (in college).”

Professor Okantah added that the question’s enormity kept him and the other speakers awake at night.

“We were driven to find those answers to interpret our experience as black people,” Okantah said, encouraging those in the audience to do the same.

“You need to begin to understand what you have, because if you don’t, the struggle continues.”

The second question was whether the panelists thought Oscar Ritchie Hall is currently being used by students for its true intent.

The answers, in different forms, could all be summarized with the word “no.”

“It’s very sad,” Dorsey said. “This is what happens when people take on the mentality of the people who enslave them. It’s very sad people don’t want to come into this facility.”

Syed, who was a student at Kent State in the 1990s, recalled a difference between today and when he went to college.

He said Black History Month use to bring three or four national speakers to campus, instead of Chingy and comedians. But he said it’s not necessarily the students’ fault.

“I know students haven’t been exposed, but you’re starting to be exposed,” he said.

At one point during the panelists’ reaction to a later question, Dorsey stood and expressed his discontent with students’ knowledge of the black experience.

Slamming his fist on the table and raising his voice, Dorsey declared, “You won’t be free until you minds are free.”

Professor George Garrison interjected: “You’re preaching to the choir.”

The students in the lecture hall, after all, were there to be enlightened.

“I’m not mad at you all,” Dorsey replied. “I’m mad at the situation.”

Later, Garrison said the reason young blacks are unaware of their history and lack the motivation to change is due to a breakdown of communication between generations and a faulty education system.

“If you’re not paying your dues, then you’re taking a free ride on someone else’s dues – there’s something wrong with that,” he said.

After the panel, Parker said the audience reaction was positive, and she’d like to have another panel discussion before the semester ends.

“There is a generational gap, and the conversation had to happen,” she said. “It’s history, and everyone should know it.”

Contact minority affairs reporter Steven Bushong at [email protected].