What Black History Month means to SIUs Black Community

February 5, 2023

Other than Valentine’s Day, the month of February is also known for Black History Month. The meaning most commonly associated with it is to celebrate all the achievements Black Americans have made throughout history. For some people, Black History could have a deeper meaning than that.

Grace Gunn, the Registered Student Organization (RSO) coordinator for Black Affairs Council (BAC), said when she was a child, she was told that Black History Month is a time to look back and reflect on Black American history.

“I remember people saying how it was just important to recognize our history so that we can understand how to move forward. I think that was the significance being shared to me as a kid,” Gunn said.

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She said this month is not only about reflecting about our history, but to also take a step back and look at how Black people fought for their freedom.

“Black history is American history and it’s a vital part of the construction of our country. So without it, we’re nothing and we have to understand it, to know how to operate within it,” Gunn said.

Being able to see all the Black RSOs on campus celebrate our history is a great thing because when we all come together, we show that we are unified and want to see each other thrive, she said.

Shelly Page, a law professor at SIU’s School of Law, said Black History Month is not only a time to reflect on the contributions African Americans have made as a community, but to look and see what we can do better.

“What’s lacking? What are we missing? What are the things we still need to do?” she said.

Page said there is an “unwritten check” America has yet to write on behalf of people of African descent.

“So we still need to look at what else we need to do to meet the goals of our ancestors to have true equality and equity in the United States of America,” she said.

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When political leaders go out of their way to try and limit the extent of which African American history is taught, Page said, it does a disservice to students who want to learn more about it.

“African American AP study should be a course offered to students, just like any other course that is offered. I think it’s a shame, so I think it behooves universities across America to make sure that history is taught in its full scope […] and whether that history makes people uncomfortable it’s their problem. History is history. The truth is the truth,” she said.

When it comes to American history specifically, there will be uncomfortable truths that we will have to face from the slaughtering of the indigenous community, the mistreatment of African Americans and other racial groups and trying to hide that truth does more harm than good, Page said.

Charah McKinzie, the Women’s Resource Center coordinator, said it is important that African Americans know their history because not knowing it could cause problems down the line.

“You get in certain situations, you don’t know what to do,” McKinzie said. “If we take some time and read books, and we’ve taken some time and study some of the techniques and strategies that our ancestors used, I think it will benefit us in the future.”

She said knowing about the different aspects of African American history is important because Black people could learn new things about our culture that could possibly help us now.

Seeing Black RSOs on campus celebrate our history is amazing to see because it shows how, when Black people come together, they can create amazing things, Mckinzie said.

“I feel proud because I think as a community. We must find ways to work together. I think as a community, we must seek some type of unity. The thing is when we are unified and organized, there are amazing things that we can accomplish,” Mckinzie said.

Nakeya Smith, a third-year student, said while having an entire month dedicated to celebrating Black Americans’ accomplishments, it can feel limiting at times.

“I feel like it makes us small because [of] the fact that we have to celebrate Black History Month in one month and […] I feel like they just gave us a month [so] that we won’t complain,” she said.

Smith said, although it does feel that Black history has been reduced to one month on the calendar, Black people should still take the time to celebrate it.

Dennis Galloway, a senior lecturer in the College of Arts and Media, said when it comes to a handful of “non people of color” and Black History, their knowledge is limited.

“There’s so many people that are not people of color, who don’t really know, they just know about Martin Luther King Jr. and a few other inventors and things like that. There’s so much that needs to get out there which will help overall in relationships,” he said.

While it is great that Black history can be taught for the entire month of February, after the month is over, there are not a lot of chances to learn about it, Galloway said.

“I am concerned about, […] the de-emphasis of the teaching of Black history. For example, with Governor Ron DeSantis, how he is demonizing critical race theory. It’s not being taught in grade schools. It’s not being taught in high schools,” he said. “It’s being taught primarily in colleges, and people like him, de-emphasizing it’s not necessarily criminalizing it but putting it in a negative light is bad for everybody because Black history is something that needs to be taught to everybody.”

Galloway said, when lawmakers essentially try to ban histories of racial groups, specifically African Americans, they make it seem as their history is not fit to be taught in schools

Smith said, “If you’re a Black person or a person of color period, just come out to all the events that the Black RSOs are doing because it is something positive to do for the month of February and even though […] it’s the smallest month of the year, we should still celebrate it.”

 

Staff reporter Janiyah Gaston can be reached at [email protected] or on Instagram @janiyah_reports. To stay up to date with all your Southern Illinois News follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

 

Tags: Janiyah Gaston, Daily Egyptian, SIUC, Black History Month, Black Excellence, Grace Gunn, Shelly Page, Nakeya Smith, Charah McKinzie, Dennis Galloway, Unity, American History, Critical Race Theory, Black History, Black RSOs, Black Community, Unity, Education

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