Members of different University of Richmond organizations have come together to develop and expand the celebration of Black History Month, both on campus and in the Richmond community.
This year’s Black History Month planning committee includes representatives from the Office of Admission, the Modlin Center, the Black Student Law Association (BSLA), Human Resources, Advancement Data Services and Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), none of which were involved last year, said Jean-Pierre Laurenceau-Medina, director of multicultural affairs.
Janelle Grant, president of the Black Student Alliance (BSA), said the theme for this year’s Black History Month celebration was “Transformation: Black History in Motion,” and the events were designed with that theme in mind.
A clip from the documentary “Before the Memories Fade: voices from the Civil Rights Movement” will be shown in the Alice Haynes Room on Sunday, Feb. 17. This program is sponsored by the Oliver Hill Scholars, and will allow viewers to reflect on and discuss the pivotal impact the Civil Rights Movement had on American society, Grant said.
On Saturday, Feb. 23, the BSA will host a spring retreat, open to everyone in the community, which will focus on black history and what it means to the new generation. This event was inspired by the success of the BSA’s fall retreat, which brought people together to discuss perceptions of beauty, what it means to be educated and the distinction between race and ethnicity, Grant said.
An open mic and student showcase will take place at 7 p.m. on Friday, March 1. It is designed to bring people of all races and ethnicities together to show their personal contributions to history in the arts, Grant said.
The final Black History Month event will be on Tuesday, March 5, at the Virginia Baptist Historical Society, featuring a program commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.
All the events are free and participation is encouraged.
The celebration of Black History Month began on Thursday, Jan. 31, with a kick-off dinner, featuring entertainment and traditional southern foods, at the university’s Heilman Dining Center. During dinner, members of the historically black Greek organizations performed step routines, read poetry and spoke about what black history means to them. A jazz band, directed by professor Mike Daviso played, Grant said.
On Friday, Feb. 1, a group of about 30 students and Richmond residents participated in a Slave Trail walk, which was organized by members of OLLI. The tour began at the Manchester Docks and allowed participants to travel the route enslaved Africans would have followed to reach the slave markets of Richmond, Grant said.
Jane Dowrick, director of the OLLI, said that one particularly memorable site on the tour had been the historical marker commemorating Henry Box Brown, the slave who mailed himself to freedom. The marker features a replica of the three-by-two-foot box that housed Brown during his journey from Virginia to Philadelphia, and allows people to get a sense of how terrifying that journey must have been, Dowrick said.
On Tuesday, Feb. 5, Richmond President Edward Ayer spoke about the importance of the Emancipation Proclamation and discussed the historic shortcomings of the government and the South in the quest for minority rights, Grant said.
The Birdland Big Band jazz ensemble, directed by Tommy Igoe, performed at the Booker Hall of Music on Wednesday, Feb. 6. This New York City-based group paid homage to jazz legends such as Charlie Parker, while also presenting a fresh, new take on the glory days of jazz, Grant said.
From Feb. 7-9, OLLI sponsored a three-part viewing of the PBS series Race – The Power of Illusion, which explores race in scientific, historical and societal contexts and asserts that many common racial assumptions are incorrect, Dowrick said.
“We definitely wanted Black History Month to have a bigger presence on campus, and I think we have a lot more to offer this year,” Grant said. “I still think we can go bigger, but it’s all about baby steps.”
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