February 18, 2015 / Volume XXXVII / Issue I
In honor of Black History Month, a committee has created a month full of programming for the community for the first time in recent history. Events have been engaging and well received so far. New College’s theme for this year’s celebration is “Black Optics: Our World Unfiltered.”
The committee, which has been meeting since November, is comprised of Professor of Sociology Queen Meccasia “Mecca” Zabriskie, third-year Nasib McIntosh, second-year Donovan Brown and first-years Ijeoma Uzoukwu and Paul Loriston.
Black History Month has occurred annually since 1976. According to History.com, each American president since then has designated February for the celebration “and endorsed a specific theme.” This year’s theme, selected by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) is “A Century of Black Life, History, and Culture,” in honor of the one hundredth anniversary of the establishment of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), the precursor to ASLAH.
Founded in 1915 by Carter G. Woodson, the ASNLH established “Negro History Week,” the predecessor of Black History Month. According to asalh100.org the Association was dedicated to “the belief that historical truth would crush falsehoods and usher in a new era of equality, opportunity, and racial democracy.” The Association pursued this belief by “researching and promoting achievements by black Americans and other peoples of African descent,” as History.com notes. ASALH continues this work today.
“It’s been going on for so long,” Zabriskie said. “1926 was Black History Week, and it’s really amazing that some people still don’t know that history around Black History Month. I think it’s really important, but I think that it also shows the history of this struggle around representation and including Black history and creating a space to talk about and celebrate Black culture and Black achievement.”
In the recent past, Black History Month has been officially celebrated on campus only with an African American Read-In at Jane Bancroft Library. Zabriskie was interested in expanding the celebration across campus and throughout the month. She sought out students who were interested in the project.
Events that have already occurred include an opening discussion to kick off Black History Month that occurred in the GDC; “Revolutionary Art, Propelling History Forward,” an Artist Talk by Dread Scott; and the African American Read-In at the Library.
“The opening conversation for this month was about race and ethnicity,” McIntosh said. “What are those things? What is race? Just getting people to think about themselves as racialized.”
All of the events have been well attended so far, with Dread Scott’s talk reaching an audience of about 50 people. Dread Scott is a multidisciplinary artist that creates revolutionary art. He has visited New College in the past.
“Get outside of the normal comfort zone,” Scott said in response to a question on how to start change in Sarasota. “If it’s a segregated city, what can we do to transform it? The world is a bad place for a lot of people. We have to change it.”
Other scheduled events include a speech by Dr. Lisa Merritt on Feb. 18 at 6 p.m. in Hamilton Classroom Building 7 (HCL 7). Merritt is the founder and executive director of the Multicultural Health Institute, and her lecture covers the topic of race and health disparities.
“Dr. Merritt does a lot of work on campus,” Zabriskie said. “She does a lot of work in the community. We wanted to make sure we gave space to a local activist or scholar doing work relevant for the month.”
There will be a lecture by keynote speaker Kortney Ryan Ziegler Ph.D. on Feb. 25 at 6 p.m. in Sainer Auditorium. Ziegler, a colleague of Zabriskie, is a transgender artist, scholar and activist.
“I’m really excited to bring him here, especially because I think New College is one of the spaces that is having these dialogues around gender and sexuality,” Zabriskie said. “Connecting what we’re doing with Black History Month to the existing dialogues taking place on campus and the existing work happening around those issues was really important.”
A closing concert and open mic will be held on Feb. 27 at 9 p.m. at the Four Winds Café. Zabriskie noted the importance of making this month collaboration and a school-wide effort.
The committee has been pleased with the turnout for events and positive feedback they have received. They encourage everyone to continue sending in feedback and suggestions for future programming.
“I know other people are interested in working with this, and I’m interested in making it a larger project as well,” McIntosh said. “We’d really like to see this become an institutionalized thing.”
Information from this article was taken from History.com and asalh100.org