In the late 1970s, Black History Month was established as an expansion of the 1920s Negro Achievement Week in honor of the day Frederick Douglas used to mark his birth.
This year, the Black Student Union and other multicultural organizations on campus are proposing a new goal and a new name for the month of February – to find their roots through a Black Heritage Celebration.
This new take on the traditional celebration calls on black men and women as well as people from all other races and ethnicities to first reflect on their personal lineage, then spread the knowledge they gained.
“There is a principle in multiculturalism that says when a person is grounded with an understanding of his own heritage that that person gets the most out of his life experiences,” said Michael Tapscott, director of the Multicultural Student Service Center.
The BSU, along with the BHC committee, has encouraged this thinking and organized 15 separate events for the month of February that are as diverse in their nature as in their appeal. Events have included a kick-off party, a keynote speaker, a multicultural dinner, a mystery dinner theater, an art auction and various interactive, educational seminars.
“Many people believe that Black History Month is only for black people. This year especially, we want to break that stereotype by inviting the entire GW community to participate,” Tapscott said. “It’s not American history for Americans, and black history for black people, its American history and black history combined for all people.”
About 100 people attended the BHC kick-off event on Feb. 1, which was advertised as a Flash-Back Party. Party-goers dressed in ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s attire and enjoyed food, socializing and dancing.
At another popular event titled Taste My World, student groups including the Caribbean Student Association, the Organization of African Students, the Organization of Latino American Students and the Racially and Ethnically Mixed Student Association cooked dinner for about 100 people in celebration of the various cultures that represent the African Diaspora. Taste My World took place Feb. 9th.
BHC Co-Chair Nikki Lane, a sophomore, said it was difficult to plan a diverse schedule of events that not only fit this year’s BHC theme of finding your roots, but also events that appealed to everyone in the GW community.
“Attracting a diverse audience was one of my main goals coming into this position (as co-chair of BHC) … It’s hard to convince people that BHC is not just done for (African American students), it’s done by us and for others,” Lane said. Graduate School of Education and Human Development student Tanesha Stewart is the other BHC co-chair.
BSU President Shannon Holmes, a junior, said budget cuts from Student Association funding to the BSU, which oversees BHC planning, was another hurdle to overcome while planning this year’s events.
“It’s important to have these types of cultural celebrations. If we didn’t have BHC or if the BSU and other multicultural student organizations did not exist, the GW community’s cultural awareness would be limited,” Holmes said.
Holmes added that BHC is a one-of-a-kind, month-long series of events with educational, social and political significance. Few other student organizations plan series of events that require as much planning, organizing and scheduling as BHC does, Holmes said.
“There is no other organization that has a list of programs like this because it takes a lot to plan BHC. It involves support from the Multicultural Student Service Center, support from other student organizations, financial support; it takes all of that,” Holmes said, adding the OLAS and Re:mix are two student organizations that also plan long series of events that celebrate multiculturalism.
In addition to Taste My World, BHC’s Keynote Address by wrtier, speaker and activist Kevin Powell was one of the most popular events so far this month. A native of Jersey City, N.J., Powell has published six books, previously worked for Vibe magazine and is now considering running for congressional office.
Powell spoke for nearly two hours on Feb. 6 in the Jack Morton Auditorium before a crowd of about 100 about the importance of understanding the history of events, people, places and dates related to the Civil Rights movement.
“If the Civil Rights movement hadn’t happened, we wouldn’t be here right now … Many of us take for granted the civility of today, the fact that we can sit here today, black kids and white kids next to each other in 2007,” Powell said.
Though Powell intermittently touched on topics that affect all age groups, like the growing amount of poverty among black Americans, he discussed at length issues and observations that directly affect his college-age audience.
For example, Powell called for sexual responsibility specifically among young black Americans, citing a statistic that young black women account for 65 percent of new HIV diagnoses.
Following his observation that “except for a few examples, black leadership is media driven” and insufficient, Powell offered six specific steps that black Americans can follow as a means to self improvement and finding one’s roots.
These steps include maintaining a spiritual foundation, developing political awareness, nurturing cultural growth, starting a plan for economic empowerment, taking care of one’s physical health and moving toward mental wellness.