UL faculty and student leaders reflect on Black History Month
Black History Month is not only a time to appreciate and honor black history, but also serves a time of reflection for many. Black students and faculty at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette reflected on the importance of Black History Month, as well as on what it means to be black.
“There is a value and a significance to black history,” said D’Weston Haywood, Ph.D., an African American history professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. “Everyone’s story should be told, especially those people’s stories that have been historically omitted.
“A scholar once called people deliberately omitting history a ‘conspiracy of silence’ that was designed to attack people,” he added.
Haywood then described the ways some people may experience racial attacks.
“On one level, you take attacks on your literal body, or you might face attacks from history books and media that says ‘You don’t exist. You don’t matter,’” Haywood said. “‘Your history doesn’t matter, so therefore, as a people, you don’t matter.’ We have a slogan today that tries to reaffirm that — that black lives matter. I think this also invokes the idea that black people’s history also matters.”
Haywood said usually on the first day of class, he asks his students, “What is blackness?” and receives a variety of responses to the questions that “are usually drawn from people’s experiences and what they know.”
“Today I think I take more pride in being black than I have in the past,” said Danielle Edwards, president of UL Lafayette’s NAACP chapter. “Black is a feeling of overall enjoyment. I stand in my black girl magic in the way that I stand, the way that I talk, my thought process. I think of being in anything that I do. It’s unexplainable. I’m so proud to be black. I’ve never felt so proud of something in my life.”
Edwards, reminiscing on the first day of Black History Month, said she proudly wore an authentic African dress that her sister brought back for her from Guinea.
“I had a lot of pride that day,” she said. “I was just drenched in black girl magic.”
Sydney Walker, president of Black Student Union, recalled that as a child, her mother — even though she is white — always ensured Walker was aware of and had pride in her black culture.
“She always insisted we celebrate Kwanzaa, the candles and tables and everything. I had children’s books with black characters; I had black baby dolls,” said Walker. “To me, it’s just something that had been instilled in me. Being black is a state of being. To me, it’s what I am.”
She said because being black is a state of being, she celebrates being black the same every day, and that it’s not something that can be condensed into 28 days.
She mentioned in coming months, BSU is planning a campaign called “Every month is Black History Month.”
Gideon Njoku, president of the African Student Association, said though he is African, being black doesn’t resonate any differently with him.
“Being African comes with its own pride, but I was born black, and I’m really proud of being black,” Njoku said. “We might speak different languages or call different places home, but that doesn’t change the fact that I am a black man. Being black to me means being unique. I was wonderfully created by God, and I was created for a purpose.”
Haywood said though “blackness” cannot be conformed into a single definition, “something that is integral to it is a shared experience, to an extent, and a common struggle for affirmation and for justice; an ongoing fight for rights, recognition and humanity.”
Both Edwards and Walker said they feel Black History Month is important to educate those who otherwise would not learn about black history.
“Nowadays it’s for people who aren’t black,” said Edwards. “Black people are becoming so conscious of who they are as black people that they celebrate black history all year around. It makes other people remember that black people have a place in history.”
“For non people of color, a lot of times this is their only interaction with black history,” Walker said. “I just think, for black people, it’s important that we don’t let this month box us in.”
Njoku said that, as an international student, he did not know much about pas African American heroes.
“Black History Month has given me a great opportunity to learn about the history of African Americans,” said Njoku.
Haywood said for him, every year Black History Month comes, the debate surfaces that “Black History Month self-segregates.
“(It’s the idea) that black people are deliberately endorsing the removal of their history from other histories to privilege their history above others and by keeping their story from being told in traditional American history,” he said.
Haywood, however, said he sees Black History Month as an anniversary. Just as a couple is married and works on their marriage daily, once a year, they have an anniversary.
“We should be engaged in the study of black history every day of every year, but every February, there rolls around an anniversary that becomes this moment for us to renew our vows to the political project that Black History (Month) was designed to be,” Haywood said.
Black History Month was first created in 1926 as “Negro History Week” by Carter G. Woodson, an African-American historian, scholar, educator and publisher. In 1976, the week was transformed into a month long celebration, honoring black heroes and legacies each February.