Kicking Off Black History Month with Poise

A choir, led by Malcolm Merriwether, sing "Lift Every Voice and Sing."/Makeet Finch
A choir, led by Malcolm Merriwether, sing “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”/Makeet Finch

Written By Makeet Finch

   On Thursday, Feb. 6, students and faculty were joined together at the Performing Arts Center, vocalizing why they celebrate Black History Month.

   The celebration kicked off with a breathtaking performance from Assistant Professor Malcolm Merriweather and students from the Brooklyn College Conservatory of Music. The procession walked down a spiral staircase dressed in all black, as they performed “Steal Away” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

   Dr. Ronald Jackson, Vice President of Student Affairs, followed up the performance with a speech recalling a time when he was racially profiled just after moving to New York City. He and a few friends of his had been hauled off after being accused of selling drugs.

   “What the police did not know was that they were carrying off to jail a group of black men who had multiple degrees, a principal actor in The Lion King, and an Ivy Leaguer who was beginning a MB

A at Columbia University who fought back and won a legal case against the NYPD,” said Dr. Jackson.

   He recollected on major goals in his life, as well as African Americans from the past that made history.

   “I recently saw the movie Harriet and marveled at her determination to free slaves. I thought back on the impact Kobe’s death had, not just sports fans but others as well,” Dr. Jackson said. “I thought about the history that was made in 2019 when for the first time Miss USA, Miss America, Miss Teen USA, Miss Universe, and Miss World were all black women.”

   Towards the end of his speech, he encouraged every black individual to stand on their feet and give themselves a pat on the back. 

   “I thought about the students who worked diligently to put on Black Solidarity Day here at the college and I also thought about all the trials and tribulations that got me where I am today and I realized black people are amazing and there’s no reason to be ashamed or apologize for it,” said Dr. Jackson. “So for no other reason we should celebrate black history as a time to reflect on the past, appreciate the present and be energized, about the possibility of the future.”

   Jackson was one of many BC faculty and administrators who spoke at the event. He was joined by Associate Director Tunji Fussell, college president Michelle Anderson, Chair of Africana Studies Prudence Cumberbatch, Director of the Wolfe Institute Rosamond King, and Chief Diversity Officer Anthony Brown.

   Undergraduate Student Government (USG) Vice President Jessica Johnson took the stage and recalled her experience as a new student at Brooklyn College, attending numerous black history programs in her first semester. 

Toussaint Louverture by Robert Beauvais./ Makeet Finch

   “I did not expect that when I came here,” Johnson said of the college’s many courses on black experiences. “I was fortunate enough to come in and say ‘Wow, I can be a black woman in this space and not worry about how I wear my hair, how I dress, how I speak,” said Johnson.

   Johnson spoke of the many events students would be attending this February to celebrate Black History Month. These events included visiting the African American Museum in Washington DC, holding a dinner where black professionals would come and speak to students on February 18th, fashion shows and panelists coming in to speak to students, and The National Black Accountants Association holding a diversity fair with PWC.

   “That is how we celebrate Black History Month,” said Johnson.

   In addition to speeches and musical performances, students showcased their art on stands and pedestals around the space for guests to see.

   Robert Beauvais honored his ancestors from Haiti with a painting of Toussaint Louverture, who defeated the French, leading Haiti to become the first nation to rebel against slavery and succeed.

   “This is an honor for me because I can use this to talk about Haitian history,” said Beauvais. “Haitians are misinterpreted. People are reminded about the negatives like poverty and self-corruption, but it’s more than that. It’s a rich culture, a beautiful history, and much more.”

   Bianca Bailey, a fine arts major at Brooklyn College, painted two paintings of African American women. According to her, Western art has never been inclusive for people of African descent, so being recognized “is a revolution.”

   “My art is centering around black people and minority people, specifically today for black people, not just because of what this month means, but because of the community I’m a part of,” said Bailey, proudly posing by her artwork. “So my art focuses on black women, I’m showing them in a glorified light.”

   BFA student Abigail Akindude created two sculptures. On the left, she created an ovary, which symbolized issues black women have with their reproductive health. On the right was a self-portrait bust, which focused on mental health and anxiety.

“This is a great way to see other people in my community and to celebrate blackness,” said Akindude.

   Violinist Devon Webster, a graduate of Brooklyn College, thrilled guests as he performed “A Change is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke. Webster left students with this message. “It’s ok to be different, just be you, whatever that looks like.”

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