In honor of February being national Black History Month, The Independent asked Black Student Union Members, as well as Kate Smith, a professor in sociology at Fort Lewis, what Black History Month means to them and where they hope it goes in the future.
Editor’s Note: The following interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.
What does Black History Month mean to you?
Kalina Cross, Co-president: It’s about the recognition of our whole past, our whole history and having this time to really just focus on black people in the U.S. I feel like it’s something that goes under the radar a lot, black accomplishments and all of these social injustices that happen within the black community which don’t get shown. We get to embrace in our black excellence. It’s a good time to reflect on how we’ve come up.
April Valino, member: I’d say Black History Month also means black excellence. I’d say it’s also looking back at the past and remembering it and also looking at the successful events of black people as well as our history. It’s being proud of who we are and everyone else learning about us. It’s a time to feel empowered, because it’s everywhere, a lot of black people celebrate this. You see it all over social media.
Kaidee Akullo, member: When I was growing up, Black History Month was about learning about my identity and what it means to be a black person. It was really focused on the history aspect. Now I feel like I’ve reached the point where it’s so much more about celebration, being especially unapologetic to be black and to be celebrated for that, and to join in this large community celebration.
Kate Smith, Sociology Professor: Black History Month for me, means that people who look like me will be acknowledged for their skills, for their contributions to our society and to our people, in that we are not second-class citizens as we have been taught in our history books. We are fully citizens, fully capable and able, and living and breathing hearts of our society.
Since it’s Black History Month, who are your favorite figures in black history?
Reisha Lewis-Adams, Co-president: My favorite person in black history is Tupac because he had a woke state of mind. He understood the corruption inside America and the treatment towards black people. And what he was able to do was connect with many people through his music in a language he spoke, the truth that he spoke and from that he was killed.
Akullo: One person who was my hero growing up is Mae Jemison, she was a doctor, astronaut, first black woman to go to space. Angela Davis is another person, she is an activist, scholar, and a very active in black liberation. She is really inspirational, really powerful and really eloquent when she speaks and in everything she shares.
Kendall Sconiers, Treasurer: Akon. What he’s doing, providing electricity for all sorts of people. He’s creating cities in Africa.
Smith: Dr. Martin Luther King, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman. Harriet Tubman took a risk, a huge risk to herself and the people she saved, and she did it anyway. Sojourner Truth spoke up, she spoke her mind, she talked about women’s rights for all women, and not just dominant culture women. She took a chance. Dr. Martin Luther King took a chance in marching and protesting, non-violent protesting. He took a chance. All of these people emphasize to me that sometimes not everything we do is by the book, you have to take a chance.
What do you hope people on campus know about Black History Month? What do you think they should take away from this celebration of your history, heritage, and culture?
Akullo: To recognize how much of black history you have actually learned during Black History Month as you were growing up. I mean I love Black History Month, but I think it’s also important to recognize that as black Americans, we’re not just Black History we’re also American History. Black History Month should be every month. You should keep learning and keep wanting to learn.
Richard Gillet, member: The narrative still might be that we’re not here, but everybody should know that we’re here now. It’s high time that everybody starts really paying attention to us. Black History Month means that it’s not the only month to celebrate black people. You should always celebrate black people.
Sconiers: The importance is that black people don’t always have to be seen as black people. They can be seen as just people. That’s still what we want, we want equal rights, we just want to be seen as white people are seen.
How has having the Black Student Union helped each of you?
Cross: I feel like BSU has helped everything. Before, I was so scared, I didn’t know anyone, and I was like, ‘there’s no black people here,’ and I didn’t have that person that looked like me and understood me to talk to. And then I joined BSU and now I have all these friends.
Lewis-Adams: It’s like how likeness attracts, and this is our little honey beehive. The more people that see this and know that this space is here, that’s more people I can meet that are to my likeness. It’s great.
Taylor Neal, member: It’s helped me a lot, especially being a transfer student. It’s hard to meet people as it is and I feel like it’s even harder at a predominantly white school, in a place where it seems like a lot of people who aren’t black, sometimes they haven’t been around black people and they don’t really know how to act.
Gillet: I just really appreciate BSU, to the point where it actually just became all I ever did here, that’s what it feels like. It really prepared me for business, a lot of business I get into outside of school. I started off trying to mold myself here, so it kind of intensified my identity, my black identity, which should be the strongest part of my life.
Where do you want Black History Month to go in the future?
Lewis-Adams: A Holiday. I wouldn’t mind a holiday because MLK is not even considered a holiday in most states. I want to keep raising awareness.
Akullo: Campus wide involvement in Black History Month, so it’s not just us or the Black History Month committee who are putting on events. The only time I heard about Black History Month in our classes is when I brought it up.
Smith: For the future I hope that Black History encompasses all our history when it’s taught in our schools. So not only do we talk about pilgrims, but we also talk about slavery. Not only do we talk about police, but we also talk about the history of police and people in colored communities. Not only do we talk about immigrants to our country, but we also include in that group people who were brought to this country against their will, because they are true immigrants also, but looked at in a different way.