When Black History Month kicks off Feb. 1, student organizations from around campus will come together to celebrate a shared source of pride, while also spurring a month-long study into the rich and varied histories of black culture throughout the world.
Shanelle Bobb, ’12, and Jenna Flack, ’13, the student co-chairs for the event, explain that in the past, Black History Month typically has been associated with black American culture. However, this year’s theme, “Intersections Within One: A World of Black Experiences,” encourages the University community to look deeper and explore the diversity of backgrounds that make up black culture and the connections people have with each other.
“We have people who may be Latino and African-American, people who from the Caribbean, people who are from Africa, multi-racial people,” Bobb says. “It’s just a whole array of ways of identifying as black. We’re trying to showcase how black culture plays out in different parts of the world and how those cultures come together. My family is from the Caribbean, so my black culture may not be the same as someone who’s from, say, North Carolina or California.”
The kick-off dinner at Heilman Dining Center will launch the month with a carefully selected dinner of culturally relevant foods, and step performances by several Greek organizations. Subsequent events will include lectures, brown bag discussions, musical performances, and art exhibitions hosted by a number of campus departments and organizations. In addition, the Black Arts Festival on Feb. 11, will welcome vendors and artists from both the University and the Richmond community to share their work and perform.
The week concludes with Bert Ashe, professor of English and American Studies, and Kiara Lee, ’12, who has researched perceptions of beauty among black women, moderating a panel discussion on what it means to be black at the University of Richmond and beyond. “[We want] people to come out and talk about their personal experiences,” Flack says. “It’s not often that you can sit back and talk about what it’s like and reflect on what it means. It adds a more personal note to Black History Month—you can find real-life intersections and talk about them.”
Ultimately, Bobb and Flack hope that the concept of finding intersections and connections will continue long after February passes.
“I want the student body to gain a better understanding of black culture, not as one entity, but realizing that, like other cultures, within people of the African-American race or of African descent, there are different subcultures and all those cultures interact, especially on a small campus like this,” Bobb says.
Flack agrees that Black History Month is “for everybody to celebrate. Just because it’s a month targeted to black history doesn’t mean that it’s just about black people. It’s a celebration of culture and an aspect of American history.”