“Please stand for the Black National Anthem,” a member of B.E.A.T.S., a Boston College student a cappella group, said to the audience who had gathered for the Opening Ceremony for Black History Month at BC.
After a clatter of silverware and rustling of napkins, the assembled guests listened to the group’s rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a song written by James Weldon Johnson in 1899.
The dinner and musical program they were attending was sponsored by the Thea Bowman AHANA and Intercultural Center (BAIC), and was held at the Shea Function Room in Conte Forum.
During Black History Month, eight more commemorative events will take place at BC. The next event is a “Spoken Word Lounge” in Gasson 100 on Feb. 6 at 6:30 p.m., and is co-sponsored by the Black Student Forum and the Campus Activities Board.
Inés Maturana Sendoya, director of the BAIC, began the kickoff event by briefly describing the history of Black History Month itself.
Sendoya said that Black History Month is officially celebrated in three countries—the United States and Canada in February, and the United Kingdom in October.
“Black History Month can be traced to 1915, when Dr. Carter Woodson, a historian, founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, and the purpose of that organization was to disseminate the achievements of people of the African diaspora,” Sendoya said.
The Association sponsored the first-ever “Negro History Week” in 1926, to be held annually during the second week of February, which coincided with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln on Feb. 12, and Frederick Douglass on Feb. 14, Sendoya said.
Sendoya said that in subsequent decades many schools and communities organized similar, local celebrations. Mayors from major American cities started issuing proclamations recognizing Negro History Week.
In the 1960s, due in part to the influence of the Civil Rights Movement, Negro History Week evolved into Black History Month on many college campuses, and was nationally recognized in 1976 by President Gerald Ford, Sendoya said.
Sendoya said that BC began officially celebrating Black History Month in 2008, coordinating numerous events with student clubs, university departments.
Following Sendoya’s remarks, B.E.A.T.S., an a cappella group formed in 2009 and named after their mission to capture the “Black Experience in America Through Song,” performed “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” among other songs by African American singers and musicians, such as The Spinners and Stevie Wonder.
Lovely Hoffman, BC ’03, a musical artist, educator, and activist, performed next. Hoffman won a New England Urban Music Award for her 2007 debut single “Can’t Wait,” which peaked at No. 10 on urban college radio charts.
During her time at BC, Hoffman co-founded the all-female BC step team F.I.S.T.S. (Females Incorporating Sisterhood Through Step). During the event, Hoffman punctuated her renditions of original and classic songs with comments related to Black History Month.
“Today we’re here celebrating Black History Month, but we know that black history is 365 days a year,” Hoffman said, to audience applause.
Hoffman also sang the vocal portion of her award-winning original music video “Black Lives Matter.” The video won first place in the Best Music Video category at the San Francisco Black Film Festival.
After her performance, Hoffman said that Nina Simone, a prominent artist and activist, was once asked to define freedom. Simone replied, “I’ll tell you what freedom is—freedom is the absence of fear.”
“That really made my heart ache—as people of color, we’re in a constant state of fear,” Hoffman said. “[People of color] don’t have freedom in this country.”
Featured Image by Amelie Trieu / Heights Editor