Black History Month Kicks Off
Published: Thursday, February 7, 2013
Updated: Thursday, February 7, 2013 01:02
Rayana Grace, A&S ’13, and Sandra Dickson, CSON ’13, are both busy individuals, serving in leadership positions for many clubs and service opportunities. What brought them together recently is the desire to make this year’s Black History Month (BHM) the best ever at Boston College. They took the first step in achieving this goal by making speeches to convince the BHM Planning Committee that they were the right people for the task.
Perhaps one reason they were so persuasive is their genuine stake in the issues at hand. “My elementary school was very much educational about black history,” Grace said. “We watched civil rights videos, we learned Negro spirituals, and we read Harriet Tubman books in first grade. That’s always something that’s been a part of me, that my family really embraces.”
As she grew older, Grace noted a “separation” between American history and black history, and soon realized that, “It’s not that people don’t want to learn; it’s that they never had the chance to,” so she aspired to provide more individuals with such a chance. “We’d like to share the figures and events that might not be as talked about, in a way that people have never approached before.”
A resident of New Jersey, Dickson prefers to identify herself first and foremost as “originally from Ghana,” where she was born. This will be her third time co-chairing the celebration.
Before arriving in the U.S. 13 years ago, Dickson said, “I don’t think I was ever exposed to the tension. Race really wasn’t a factor. We had people of different backgrounds, but we didn’t look to anybody as superior or inferior. Then, coming here, where it was really very pervasive, I was forced to understand this culture.”
Similar to Grace, Dickson said she “was fortunate enough to attend a predominantly black middle school, where African American history was taught, so I was exposed and I understood slavery and all, but when I went to prep school, there was no African American history taught. Even here at BC, it’s a choice, not something that fulfills the history core.
“Whether I like it or not, when people first meet me, they will think I’m African American. As a Ghanaian, I don’t want to get rid of my culture, but to intertwine and integrate it into another culture is something everyone can do. Everyone should be open to learning, and acknowledging their ignorance, instead of just looking at something ‘AHANA’ and thinking of it as a separate group, when it’s actually an acronym for empowerment—an opportunity to learn, not a reason to further segregate the community.”
The pair’s sincerity paid off, as Wednesday’s kickoff event saw a packed Corcoran Commons, with many students racing to answer trivia questions relating to African American history.
Of course, these questions, including “In what year did Martin Luther King, Jr., make his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech?” (1963) and “What was the name of the movement protesting segregation that involved taking long bus rides together?” (Freedom Riders), were raised with the promise of reward: $25 restaurant gift cards.
According to the two organizers, the goal is to “showcase who we are as a culture and educate the rest of the BC community. The question, then, is whether the organizers can go beyond bringing iconic parts of black culture to the BC community’s attention, delving from these often familiar symbols to more introspective reflection.
“Today is for festivities,” Dickson said. “The more serious events will come later on in the month.” For that reason, the formal dinner and keynote speaker routine traditionally carried out for the opening ceremony has instead been reserved for the closing, where Deacon Arthur Miller of the Black Catholic Ministries has been invited to give a motivational speech. The committee has also planned two panels, “Battle of Complexions: The Significance of Skin Color in the Black Community” and “Why Can’t I say the N Word,” to initiate a factual and ideological exchange between students and faculty.
The committee is also collaborating with culture clubs and other organizations on campus to put on musical events, documentaries, an open mic night, and even a “dating game show,” in order to have enough variety to appeal to all students.
Dickson added that beyond the physical forms of the events, the idea of Black History Month should in itself hold universal significance. “It’s not exclusive to African American students, or even just AHANA students,” she said. “Our history, though not always a positive one, has always been a significant part of American history. It’s monumental in how we have all progressed as a society.
“The reason we picked the theme of ‘Ever progressive: A Sesquicentennial Celebration of Black History’ is that 150 years ago, people at BC were all Irish white men, and look how far we’ve come.”