Updated: Feb. 1, 2021 at 10:12 a.m.
Student leaders of the Black Heritage Celebration committee said they hope attendees will learn from this month’s events about what it means to be Black at GW and continue to advocate for the GW Black community after the celebration ends.
GW’s 15th annual Black Heritage Celebration begins Monday with the committee’s first sponsored kick-off event, “Black Is Not a Monolith,” a discussion on being Black at GW. Junior Desi Warren II, the co-chair of the BHC committee, said leaders chose the theme, “Black Is ___,” to highlight the “many different aspects of being Black” in professional and personal settings and allow for participating student organizations to fill in what resonates most with them.
“We have Black hockey players, we have Black nerdy scholars, we have Black celebrities, we have Black people who are athletes but then also Black people who are doing amazing things in other fields,” Warren II said. “We wanted to make this as inclusive as possible.”
Throughout the month of February, about 20 different student organizations will host virtual events like panel discussions with professionals and open mic nights to celebrate what being Black means to them. All students are invited to attend, listen and learn, Warren II said.
He said Finale, an annual celebratory event at a local D.C. club that concludes BHC, was canceled in light of the pandemic. Warren II said BHC’s annual keynote speaker moved from the beginning to the middle of the month.
Organizers said the Soul Revue performance, which would usually take place in an auditorium during a non-pandemic year, will run Feb. 22-27 on the BHC Instagram page. Students are encouraged to submit videos of themselves dancing and singing to be posted on the page and create an “interactive” experience with Instagram polls and a Soul Revue hashtag, organizers said.
Warren II said the committee did not request funding from the Student Association because they were not hosting in-person events, creating merchandise to sell or providing food. He said participating student organizations were responsible for requesting their own funding from the SA, but he hopes future celebrations can be funded entirely by the University.
“The University has definitely caused a lot of students of color, specifically Black students, a lot of pain and a lot of trouble and a lot of anxiety over the past year and in just the last couple of months,” Warren II said. “It’s important that from this point on, [University President Thomas] LeBlanc and the administration fund BHC fully so that we don’t have to go to the SA to request money.”
Junior Nia Lartey, the co-chair of the BHC committee and a former Hatchet reporter, said she is looking forward to the student organization-sponsored events, like a journalism discussion with Yamiche Alcindor, hosted by the Association of Black Journalists and Undergraduate Black Law Student Association. She said scheduling speakers for each event was easier in a virtual setting because speakers are generally more flexible with online events.
Lartey said attending events for the BHC over the last couple of years gave her “comfort” because she was surrounded by others who looked like her. She said she will miss chatting with attendees at in-person events like “Black Is Not a Monolith,” the kickoff event.
“To not have that conversation in person, it’s something I’m really going to miss,” Lartey said. “But I hope people come to engage. I hope people come to bring all of themselves or how much of themselves that they want to bring and insert into it.”
Sophomore Kourtney Buckner, the BHC community service co-chair, said she planned a “limited” in-person community service event following COVID-19 guidelines for Feb. 26 to bring awareness to food insecurity in the District, which disproportionately affects communities of color. The event, “Black is Restorative,” is taking place at Martha’s Table, a nonprofit organization and community center in southeast D.C.
Buckner said a total of 20 students are set to attend the event and bag groceries for Martha’s Table to distribute to those who face food insecurity in the D.C. area.
“This is a very tangible way of getting involved with racial justice as health inequities are evermore visible in light of the pandemic,” Buckner said. “We hope students really understand how pertinent this issue is and how the pandemic has amplified the need for true health equity.”
Junior Faith Arthur, the co-programming chair of the BHC, said she hopes attendees can learn about Black heritage through this month’s events. She added that she hopes officials not only attend the celebration but feel “inspired” to increase funding for the Multicultural Student Services Center and future BHCs to give Black students a “space on campus.”
“I hope that Black Heritage Celebration isn’t just a box that GW administration checks off or GW students check off,” Arthur said. “I truly hope that they feel inspired and compelled during the month, and not just during the month of February but after, to take action to really reflect upon how their actions or lack of actions influence or impact the Black community.”
For freshman participants, the BHC is a chance for them to find community on campus as the pandemic continues to spread people apart. Six freshmen involved in Black student organizations said after struggling to find their community in an online setting, they are looking forward to celebrating their culture and relating to students with shared experiences at each event.
Freshman Jaida Rogers, an international affairs major, said she joined the Young Black Professionals in International Affairs and Black Student Union last semester as communities for her to celebrate Black culture. She said conversations held throughout the month will help her and her peers get to know each other on a “real level,” which is missed in the online setting.
“I am really looking forward to just celebrating ourselves,” Rogers said. “With everything that happened in 2020, and all the trauma specifically the Black community has gone through, especially Black GW students, it’s just a great time to celebrate our culture and ourselves and our community even though it is virtual.”
Celeste Noraian and Lalitha Shanmugasundaram contributed reporting.
This post was updated to correct the following:
An earlier version of this story stated that BHC’s keynote speaker event was canceled. The event was moved from the beginning to the middle of the month.