Lively music filled the room as students and faculty shuffled into Gasson 100 on Thursday night. Red, yellow, and green banners hung from the surrounding walls, spelling out the words “Black History Month.”
“We mark the start of our month-long celebration of thousands of years of strength, perseverance, triumph, love, creativity, beauty, and of course, excellence,” said Vice President for Student Affairs Shawna Cooper Whitehead.
Cooper Whitehead’s speech kicked off a lineup of guest speakers and performances for the Thea Bowman AHANA and Intercultural Center’s annual Black History Month Opening Ceremony, which celebrated the theme “Stronger Together” this year.
In her opening speech, Cooper Whitehead emphasized the diversity within Black history and its significance beyond the historical figures that society most often recognizes.
“It is also essential, during Black History Month, to acknowledge the people who may not be famous—those names who are not written down, or whose stories are unspoken,” Cooper Whitehead said.
UGBC President Lubens Benjamin, CSOM ’23, gave a speech about the power of dreaming and the importance of Black culture.
“Black is beautiful, Black is excellent, Black is pain, Black is joy,” Benjamin said.
Benjamin recalled how his early childhood experiences with racism made him feel like his ability to achieve his dreams was limited. He eventually overcame these feelings, he said, through self-empowerment.
“But see, being Black is being free,” Benjamin said. “We are free to dare to dream outside of that box, and all it takes is a spark of inspiration.”
Associate Director of the Women’s Center Claire Johnson Allen, who also spoke at the ceremony, shared her career journey with the audience, emphasizing the value in adaptability and patience while pursuing one’s goals.
“It’s a little bit hard to recalculate life, but it is possible, and I really hope that we can find ways to embrace that—to realize that the longer route can be beneficial and impactful and is completely viable,” Johnson Allen said.
Johnson Allen also spoke about how being more holistic in her career goals and idea of success helped her avoid feelings of failure, pointing to her path after graduate school working as a waitress, performer, banker, and now as a social worker as an example.
“I was able to realize that dreams don’t necessarily die,” Johnson Allen said. “They can be amorphis as we allow them to be and want them to be.”
Benedita Zalabantu, MCAS ’25, then recited her poem “No Title,” which explores the Black female experience.
“Black girl, skin and soul, is beautiful,” Zalabantu read. “Black girl wish she knew she was beautiful.”
The evening’s programming also featured a variety of performances from on-campus groups.
BC BEATS performed a cappella covers of K-Ci & JoJo’s “All My Life” and CeeLo Green’s “Forget You,” with solos by Vicky Adegboyega, MCAS ’26, and Tara Balan, MCAS ’25.
Singer-songwriter Angus Williams, MCAS ’25—who goes by the stage name CARAMEL—also performed an original song titled “Gone by the Morning” while he played the piano.
The evening closed with a performance by the Voices of Imani gospel choir and a short preview dance from Sexual Chocolate’s annual showcase.
Attendee Kurt Loiseau, a doctoral student in the Lynch School of Education and Human Development, said that events like the Black History Month Opening Ceremony provide a safe space for students of color on campus.
“It’s important just cause there aren’t a lot of spaces out there,” Loiseau said. “And I imagine it’s extremely important to add spaces like this to BC.”