Black History Month: Celebrating culture, discussing challenges, moving forward with actions

Black History Month is well underway at the University of Maryland. It kicked off Feb. 1 at the Nyumburu Cultural Center, where various student organizations celebrated this year’s theme: “The Crisis in Education.”

The theme is also the national theme for Black History Month, and a team of representatives from various black student organizations on campus decided to go along with the national theme because “it is salient to us as students at this University,” Rachel Akins, Black Student Involvement and Advocacy graduate coordinator for MICA, said.

“This year’s theme should help students recognize that there are many challenges that black people face in the education system,” Akins said. “But that there are many efforts in place to combat the crisis in black education.”

While some events lined up for this month correlate with this year’s theme about education (a panel about diversity in graduate education and the black experience in academia), other events focus on black experiences, culture and history.

Representatives from different student organizations, like Black Student Union, NAACP, and the African Students Progressive Action Committee, along with Nyumburu Cultural Center and other university departments, put together the events for this month.

Each year the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) selects a theme to help focus the transnational recognition and celebration of black history, Anne Carswell, associate director at the Nyumburu Cultural Center, said. It’s meant to call attention to the “systemic under-education of marginalized populations” which has led to the “incongruent division of political power.”

“The crisis in black education has grown significantly in urban neighborhoods where public schools lack resources, endure overcrowding, exhibit a racial achievement gap, and confront policies that fail to deliver substantive opportunities,” according to the ASALH summary about this year’s theme. “Yet, African American history is rich in centuries-old efforts of resistance to this crisis.”

This year is an “excellent opportunity” to teach, develop and encourage a spirit of action, “considering the present political climate,” Carswell said. Through this month’s events, she “hope[s] to create opportunities for more young minds to engage in critical thought and move forward with actions.”

The Nyumburu Cultural Center has different events designed to “celebrate and acknowledge the community” as well as enhancing “community pride and confidence through culture and self-expression,” Carswell said.

SEE screened Moonlight, a movie that follows the life of a black man from childhood to adulthood as he struggles to find a place in the world. Alpha Theta Sigma Multicultural Fraternity screened the documentary Soul Food Junkies, which explores soul food and its relevance to black cultural identity.

There are also discussions like the one about the influence of religion on black culture, or about connecting anti-rape and anti-racism work, or about mental health at the intersections of race, gender and sexuality.

Other events celebrate black culture, like Maryland MANE’s “My Black is Beautiful” event, the Driskell Center Art Show and the Black Monologues. To end the month, Black Student Union is hosting a Black History Month Ball, with a Harlem Nights theme. The proceeds from ticket sales for the ball will go to the Helping Out My Younger Self scholarship fund to help Prince George’s County youth pay for college.

“We have the opportunity to attend an institution of higher learning, and are therefore in positions to help other students get here one day,” Akins said.