Following a summer of protests for lost black lives and racial inequality, illustrating a grand resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, Fort Lewis College’s Black Student Union brought events to campus to honor Black History Month.
At the beginning of the month, on Feb. 5, FLC students, as well as members of the larger Durango community, gathered outside FLC’s clock tower to participate in BSU’s first big event of the month, a vigil around a bonfire in remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other black lives.
The night of the event, howling winds and cold temperatures blew in prior to the event’s evening start time.
Jacob Curley, FLC senior, who volunteers for BSU, said the conditions made him worry about the event’s turn out.
Yet, as the event neared, more and more mask-wearing, socially-distanced FLC students trickled in to participate, branding the event a major success for BSU by the end of the night, Curley said.
The event featured a burning ceremony, in which participants wrote anything they’d like to leave behind in 2020 on paper and threw them into the large, burning fire-- letting them go, hopefully for good, BSU president Iyahna Calton, said.
“It essentially symbolized new beginnings,” Calton said, referring to the burning ceremony. “It was about throwing away the past, and leaving that anger and negativity behind us.”
This, in essence, is the spirit of BSU this month-- acknowledging and promoting that Black History is, and always has been, American history, all while thinking into the future and focussing on progress, Calton said.
The events of last summer, namely a grand effort by many Americans to enlarge the conversation about racial injustice in the United States, have meant mixed things for BSU at FLC.
On a more positive note, Calton has seen overall engagement with BSU’s events skyrocket, she said.
But on the flip side, it’s meant that BSU has been asked to sit on a lot more panels, write several OP-Eds, and essentially advocate for their own existence, Calton said.
The movement was intended to put the work-load of progress on the backs of many different groups of allies, not put black people on the front lines of education and awareness, Calton said.
While allied people should be expanding their own internal resources, instead, a lot of different organizations and the FLC institution have been exhausting BSU’s, she said.
This is why, in deciding the events for BHM, BSU decided to stray from their traditional, more education-centric themes, and instead focus on themes like reclaiming the black identity, enlightenment and restoring the black family, Calton said.
Some events highlighting these themes were a comedy show, a panel entitled Black Voices at the Fort and a painting event.
BSU has also been focused on making their presence known on campus. The key to this has been networking: BSU is working to partner with Durango businesses, network with clubs outside of campus, such as the emerging BSU at Durango High School, and collaborate with other student organizations on campus, she said.
These collaborations are already in the works-- BSU and Club Del Centro teamed up to bring FLC a three-day virtual series in mid-February which featured spoken word poets Melania Luis Marte and Angelica Maria Aguilera on their nation-wide university tour entitled Adios America.
The events were filled with thought-provoking, impassioned poetry covering themes all relating back to the toxic narratives experienced by POC in the United States.
The poems touched on topics such as sexism, xenophobia, the importance of the pronunciation of names, anti-blackness, and, naturally, an ode to Meg Thee Stallion.
While virtual events have been notorious for low-engagement, the sentiment was different here: the entire event, the chat lit up with encouragements from the FLC students in attendance as the poems were read, all related to the relatability of the themes being expressed, from “I feel this!!!” to “YESSSS!” to “*snaps*” to a simple “thank you for that.”
As February comes to a close, one of the biggest things for BSU is to extend their presence, and the acknowledgement of their organization, beyond the shortest month of the year, Calton said.
While it’s been nice to see members of the FLC community seek out education and interact with the events put on by BSU this month, the hope is that the energy stays beyond the end of the month, she said.
“This momentum has allowed us to do a lot in February, but if people keep the same mindset throughout the entire year, we’d be able to make a lot more change as an organization,” Calton said.