Updated: Feb. 3, 2020 at 10:01 a.m.
GW’s 14th annual Black Heritage Celebration is kicking off with the most funding in its history and a slate of more than a dozen entirely student-led events.
Student leaders said this year’s theme, “Reclaiming Our Renaissance: Our History, Our Culture, Our Legacy,” honors the centennial anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance. For the first time since BHC launched in 2006, the celebration is entirely organized by students and received a record $29,000 to fund nearly 20 different events, like discussions on black women’s self care and a step show, student leaders said.
The celebration will begin Monday with keynote speaker Brittany Packnett Cunningham, a social justice activist, followed by about five events per week throughout the rest of the month. BHC will round out Feb. 29 with a formal event at the L2 Lounge, according to the BHC agenda.
Raven Lucas, the BHC programming co-chair, said most of the events change every year to match the theme. In previous years, BHC centered on themes like “I’m Rooting for Everybody Black” last year and “The Revolution will be Televised” in 2017.
“I would say as programming chairs, we just wanted a diverse array of programs throughout the month,” she said.
Students lead BHC with record funding
The SA dished out $29,000 to the BHC for this month’s celebrations, which organizers said were put toward funding speakers, providing food at events and lowering the price of tickets for the final event.
“That also speaks to increased diversity within the Student Association, which shows that it’s becoming more diverse and starting to reflect what the student body looks like and represents,” Lucas said. “They’re starting to see the importance of having this programming.”
Nia Lartey, the BHC programming co-chair and a former Hatchet reporter, said the BHC committee received several event proposals from dance teams, graduate student organizations and for the first time, from academic departments and LATAM@GW.
“That was a big thing last year because a lot of non-black people who were wondering if they could come to BHC events or if they were for them, and we really wanted to stress this year that the entire community is welcome to anything that is happening in February,” Lartey said.
In past years, Lartey said George Rice, the former associate director of the Multicultural Student Services Center, was the administrative force behind BHC, but no official replaced his role in the planning process when he left last year. Lartey said graduate student Cassandra Allen filled in as an adviser to oversee the planning process, but all of the people planning the month are students.
“While it was daunting in the beginning that we had to plan the month without the powerhouses that we had in past years, everything happens for a reason, and I believe we were able to give this year’s BHC some much needed new love,” she said. “We have free t-shirts, extremely discounted finale tickets and events with organizations we haven’t had the privilege to partner with yet.”
She said BHC organizers send a form to apply to host an event at the end of September, and student leaders considered the proposals in the first week of November. The events must relate to the theme of the month, and organizers give greater focus toward new organizations that want to be part of the celebration, she said.
Lartey and Lucas said the BHC marketing committee, a subset of the planning group, runs an Instagram account, @GWUBHC, where they counted down the days to the start of the celebration and provide updates about events. She said the marketing committee also posts flyers in residence halls and around campus to spread awareness for the month.
Lartey added that organizers gave away five tickets to attend the celebration finale later this month for the first time to help promote the event. Finale tickets are currently $10 and will go up to $15 on Feb. 15.
Lartey said the Multicultural Student Services Center also helped to promote the month and BHC’s programming by including information about the celebration in its newsletters and website.
New events on tap
For this year’s celebration, 22 student organizations, departments and Greek councils are hosting, sponsoring and participating in events – most of which incorporate the word “reclaim” into their names. Leaders said all of the events this month are new, except for the second annual step show, the end of month “finale,” the keynote and the “soul revue,” an R&B and hip-hop performance.
The Organization of Latino American Students and the Black Student Union have teamed up to hold the first “Best of Both Worlds” brunch on Feb. 9 at the Phi Beta Sigma townhouse. The event will be divided into two parts throughout the day, beginning with “conversation with our communities and allies to take part in bridging the gap” and wrapping up with “brunch and conversation,” according to the event schedule.
The GW Association of Black Journalists will host the event, “Reclaiming the Mic” in the Jack Morton Auditorium next Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. Radio personality Angela Yee from The Breakfast Club radio show and the Lip Service Podcast will join ABJ for a conversation about storytelling within the black community.
BHC will also honor Valentine’s Day with the event, “Reclaiming Love” on Feb. 14 in the Marvin Amphitheater at 7 p.m. RoughCut Productions will present “The Golliwog,” a student film directed by Guinevere Thomas, a senior in the School of Media and Public Affairs, a showrunner for RoughCut Productions and another BHC co-chair.
Thomas said she wants her film to inspire other people of color to create their own art. The horror film delves into how the black “form” is “haunted” by American history.
“I want other artists to watch my film and feel empowered to create their own art because black children are so often told that this isn’t a career choice for them and that there is no place for them in the creative space, and I wholeheartedly reject that,” Thomas said.
During the event, guests will also hear from Imani Cheers, an associate professor at SMPA, on Feb. 14 as she examines the concept of double-consciousness and black female identity in film.
The Multicultural Business Student Association will host an interactive panel called “Reclaiming Our Real Estate” next Tuesday. MBSA treasurer and panel moderator Martin Haggray said the panel’s speakers will include black professionals from the commercial real estate industry who will explain the importance of black leadership and ownership in real estate.
“I think the main goal is to bring a level of first-hand exposure for students to see professionals who are doing this business, who are vice presidents and directors at leading companies in D.C.,” Haggray said.
Howard Brookins, the president of the MBSA, said he has noticed a lack of black speakers coming to talk to students at GW, especially in connection to business and real estate. Brookins said panel focuses on encouraging people of color to pursue their goals in business or real estate by drawing attention to the people on the panel.
“This is the whole purpose of the Black Heritage Celebration, to recognize that we are black and that we navigate through spaces differently and that there are people like us, who look like us, succeeding,” Brookins said. “You may forget that other people like you went through the same struggles.”