Black History Month kicks off
Students gathered at Tommy’s Place Wednesday to kick off Black History Month, beginning a month-long celebration of Black voices, contributions and stories.
President Carol Folt spoke at the event, highlighting the importance of the celebration. She was joined by Greedley Harris from the Center for Black and Cultural Student Affairs and Reverend Brandon Harris from the Office of Religious Life.
“Today, we’re coming together to remember our history,” Folt said. “[We’re] paying tribute to people whose lives give us hope and to demonstrate the power of individuals to inspire meaningful change.”
Folt brought attention to Black student and alumni achievements, ranging from contributions to the Martin Luther King exhibit at the Fisher Museum of Art to the rechristening of Cromwell Field to Allyson Felix Field, honoring the five-time Olympian and 11-time Olympic medalist. Toward the end of her speech, Folt quoted Felix’s 2022 commencement speech.
“[Felix] told us to ‘use our voices to fight for our ideals and our values — even,’ as she said, ‘— if they shake,’” Folt said.
Danielle Harvey, associate vice president for alumni relations and the interim executive director for the Black Alumni Association, helped organize the event. Folt and Harvey wanted to keep student safety in mind amid the ongoing pandemic, while also maximizing the number of people that could attend, so they implemented a hybrid model.
“The folks at the Center for Black and Cultural Student Affairs worked together to stream the virtual event and bring people together in person to watch it,” Harvey said. “It’s really a work of love across the campus.”
The event also showcased local small businesses such as LA Grind Coffee and Tea Bar, which served various flavored teas and lemonade, and Rosalind’s Restaurant, which served an Ethiopian meal.
Harvey said she wanted to emphasize the importance of celebrating Black achievements and history in the face of current attempts to stifle them, specifically Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ recent move to strip the AP African American studies curriculum.
“[Ron DeSantis is] really working hard to erase what African Americans have contributed to the United States and their history here for the last 500 years,” Harvey said.
What became Black History Month began in 1915 when Harvard University alum Carter G. Woodson and minister Jesse Moorland founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History — known today as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History — to research and recognize the achievements of Black people.
In 1926, the ASALH created Negro History Week, which took place the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and notable abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Eventually, former president Gerald Ford recognized Black History Month as an event beginning in 1976.
Lillian Leonard, a senior majoring in public relations, said she believes it’s critical to celebrate Black achievements and embrace the contributions that Black individuals have made to U.S. culture.
“It’s very important to highlight [Black achievements] and really give a platform to specific individuals who carried us through a lot,” Leonard said.
Mai-Yen Fritz, a senior majoring in neuroscience, said that Black History Month is a time when she can embrace her identity completely, as she feels it’s not socially acceptable to freely express herself in any month other than February.
“I’m having to watch how I speak out,” Fritz said. “[It’s] mostly just being silenced in a lot of public spaces, not surrounded by people who look like me.”