Frustrated with the heavy shroud over black history, historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson founded the first Black History Week in 1926. He chose the second week in February to honor the birthdays of abolitionists Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.
Following the Civil Rights Movement, college campuses nationwide expanded Black History Week into a full month and in 1976, President Gerald Ford officially recognized February as Black History Month.
“What we need to do is to show people how relevant [black history] is and how it is affecting their lives whether they’re black or not…” Mark Blackburn, director of Diversity and Inclusion, said. “We just really got to think about the contributions that the community has given to this country; it needs to be made aware of and celebrated as such.”
In an effort to spark conversation surrounding race and inclusivity, Blackburn worked alongside other departments to host several events. Among the events were a Lunch and Learn, on the topic “African Americans in the Media,” a lecture by author and President of the Minneapolis NAACP Jason Sole and an archeology presentation on the story of black homesteaders who founded Dewitty, Nebraska.
Black History Month, however, does not come without criticism. Many students argue that “black history” should not be relegated to its own category because it is American history.
“It is a month that is supposed to celebrate and honor black historical figures in our history and also to shed light on the struggles of black people and what’s happening in the world,” junior Alexa Olsen said. “But Black History Month shouldn’t just be one month. It makes up this nation.”
Senior Ekram Wehabrebi said, “It’s not just about Black History Month, it’s everyday. Your skin is your skin and all that diversity, you go through that all day.”
On Feb. 27 at 7 p.m. Wehabrebi will host a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony in the Writing Center where she plans to incorporate discussion of black history into the event.
“More than the ceremony itself, I wish people would understand that socializing should be a big part of our daily life,” Wehabrebi said. “We should come together and discuss topics, not just in class gatherings.”
In addition to Wehabrebi’s coffee ceremony next week, Augie Connect will kick off its new discussion series, Big Questions and Needed Conversations, on Feb. 26 at 7 p.m. in the Back Alley where they will explore “What It Means To Be An American.”
“Because [Augie] is still predominantly white, it’s good to educate [students] on black history,” Olsen said. “Of course, everyone knows about Martin Luther King Jr. and Harriet Tubman, but more people need to know about figures like Malcom X. Ignored figures like that should be brought more to attention.”
Citing recent demographic reports stating that 36 percent of Sioux Falls’ k-12 population are minority students, Blackburn said, “We are growing diverse quickly. We really need to look at ways we can integrate other individuals, cultures and traditions into this mainstream culture here. It’s better that everyone eliminate the barriers; we have to be inclusive and integrated.”
Blackburn stressed that the actions students take each day—not just during February—are what make the biggest difference.
“Every student makes some contribution towards the future,” Blackburn said. “What’s the legacy you leave to the students behind you? What can you do to lead the way in terms of inclusivity?”