UWRF celebrates Black History Month
February 10, 2023
The Black Student Union and the Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging office are collaborating to celebrate Black History Month by hosting numerous events in February to honor the importance of Black history while educating UWRF students and faculty on the subject.
According to the Library of Congress, Carter G. Woodson initiated the first Negro History Week in February 1926. Woodson chose that week because Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, two key figures in Black history, who contributed to the end of American slavery, have birthdays that same week. Congress officially passed a law recognizing Black History Month in 1986.
DIB Director Derek Bradley said that BSU’s theme for this year's Black History Month events is "harambe." The word harambe means “all pull together” in Kenya’s national language of Kiswahili. This word helps to highlight DIB and BSU’s goal of unity.
Bradley said that “[DIB] cultivates a community of care, making sure that students come into this space as their authentic selves, but then also utilizing this space for supportive services.”
Mayala Keita, the BSU president and event coordinator, mentioned BSU’s goal and said, “[We are] trying to foster a community for Black students who come to River Falls who have struggles seeing themselves within the community just to have somewhere for them to go and say, ‘Hey, there are people who look like me who understand what I’m going through,’ and just be at peace.”
Angel Riley, the BSU freshman representative, said “Our goal is to connect with as many students as possible and make as many connections as we can because at the end of the day we do go to a PWI [predominantly white institution], [and] it's really hard to find people who you fit in with and who you feel like can relate to you.” BSU also hosts a number of events related to financial literacy, scholarships, and cultures around the world.
Black History Month is something that is very important to the Black community and, as such, it is important to expand the knowledge of the general public about important parts of history that may not be well-known. Riley says “It's one of the most important times of the year and that goes for not just me but all Black people because, obviously, living in America, we don’t get acknowledged as much as we should for all that we do.”
Bradley adds, “It’s American history, Black History Month. Learning a little bit more about our history as Americans but also dedicating a specific month to learning a little bit more about our history as Black individuals because our history was erased from us. So not only being able to pay respects but being able to actually have knowledge behind who we are as an identified human demographic. It’s also just really educational for all of us just to be informed about different people and different backgrounds.”
Samuel Gale, an African American History teacher at UWRF, highlights the idea of listening to Black experiences while teaching, saying, “I am a white man born in the United States. I am someone who is from an academic perspective. I am someone who has studied the history and the historiography of the African American experience in the United States, but that is as far as my knowledge goes. The lived experience is something beyond my grasp.”
“It is okay to acknowledge that there might be gaps, and whether that is from the teaching you had in high school, the community you lived in, or your lack of interactions with African Americans throughout your life, that shouldn’t preclude you from taking a risk and having uncomfortable conversations and learning stuff that is challenging,” Gale said.
Although Black History Month is celebrated by many, there is still backlash as well. In response to this, Keita said, “Every year we get, oh why not do this for white students, why not do this for German or different cultural students or things like that. My answer for that is to encourage it. If we didn’t host this as a group it wouldn’t happen.”
Keita added, “I just want people to actually take a step back and see Black history for more of a celebration rather than a competition. It’s a celebration that we have put on for ourselves and we invited you to join us, come celebrate!”
BSU has many other events planned throughout the month, including a movie night, African night, spirit week, and a closing ceremony.