The university’s Black History Month events begin at 4 p.m. today with an opening ceremony in Fulton Chapel and will continue throughout the month with film screenings, a legacy walk honoring James Meredith, a session on how to utilize library resources to explore African-American history and much more.
Hosted by the Center for Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement (CICCE) and the Black History Month Planning Committee, the opening ceremony will include selections from the UM Gospel Choir and a keynote address from assistant professor of sociology Bryan Foster.
The “Lift Every Voice Award” will also be presented at the ceremony. This award honors a person, group or entity that has actively improved relations on campus, specifically targeting areas such as diversity, multiculturalism and inclusion.
CICCE director Shawnboda Mead said preparation for Black History Month began in September. The CICCE plans the opening celebration and keynote address but openly invites other groups to collaborate on other events throughout the month.
“We invite several student organizations, academic and student affairs departments and other community groups to attend the first Black History Month planning meeting in September,” Mead said. “Our goal is to offer a comprehensive calendar of events that foster reflection, dialogue and engagement for the entire campus community.”
National Poetry Slam Champion and Individual World Poetry Slam finalist Clint Smith will deliver the keynote address in Fulton Chapel on Feb. 26. Smith does more than just poetry – he is a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship recipient interested in mass incarceration, sociology of race and the history of U.S. inequality. He has given two TED talks, which have been viewed more than 5 million times. He is also a writer, teacher and doctoral candidate at Harvard University.
The fifth annual Black History Month Gala will take place at 6 p.m. Feb. 9 in the Gertrude C. Ford Center. The gala was first created by the Black Student Union executive board, which felt it was necessary to commemorate those African Americans who had created a more diverse and inclusive atmosphere but were going unrecognized.
Black Student Union President Nekkita Beans said that, since 2014, the gala has celebrated African-American achievement of progress on campus.
“We are proud to continue to perpetuate this initiative and are excited to fellowship with current members, past BSU students, as well as faculty and staff,” Beans said.
Men of Excellence, an organization that supports minority males on campus, has hosted the “Continuing the Legacy Walk” since 2015. The walk serves to honor James Meredith, who in 1962 became the first African American to attend Ole Miss. This year’s walk will take place at noon Feb. 7 in the Lyceum Circle.
Norris “EJ” Edney III, National Pan-Hellenic Council coordinator of Greek affairs, said the walk reminds the community of the opposition those in the African-American community faced in 1962.
“Commemorating the integration of the University of Mississippi is important because of the continued disparities in educational access and outcomes that minority students experience,” Edney said. “It (the walk) is meant to remind us that there is still work to do and progress to make for many marginalized groups on campus. It is important to remember the inequities of our past and present.”
J.D. Williams Library will host an event Feb. 21 to make students aware of free online resources accessible through the library. These tools are particularly helpful for students in African-American studies classes or those who want to learn more about African-American history.
The library’s archives and special collections are celebrated, and they include all of James Meredith’s papers; however, many students don’t realize they are so recognized, according to Amy Gibson, African-American studies librarian.
Gibson said there is a benefit to understanding all of America’s history and a need for Americans to empathize about the painful part of their country’s past. She also acknowledged that it takes a long time to deal with this painful history, especially considering African Americans had to be integrated through the use of force.
Becca Walton, associate director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, said the study of African-American history must be made a priority throughout the year, not just during one month.
“We walk on ground that still bears evidence of slavery and resistance to integration. We need to tell the full story of how this legacy of inequality and violence affects the experience of students, faculty and staff,” Walton said. “There isn’t a history of the University of Mississippi without black history.”