Carter Brown – Staff Writer
Black History Month has arrived here on the campus of Gustavus, and its presence is prevalent all throughout campus via events and posters celebrating the month and black individuals. As we have made it through more than half of the month of February, the time approaches for some important events, and the new Center for Inclusive Excellence (CIE) Assistant Director Kareem Watts sheds some light on what Black History Month will look like here on campus, and seeks to reach out to students on campus to help further efforts for inclusivity and events.
“Black history month is going to look different than in times past. This is primarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, we are continually thinking of innovative ways to create programs and events that will allow us to stay safe while practicing social distancing,” Watts said.
“There’s a plethora of events happening between our department and other areas/student organizations on campus,” Watts said.
One of those events is hosted by Watts himself, called “The Lyrical Café.” Making its debut on Feb. 26, the café is an open mic event that allows for students to showcase their talents, whether it be singing, rapping, poetry, or–despite its title being the “lyrical” café–dancing.
“Anyone is welcome to sign up to participate and bless the mic with anything that involves “clean” (no profanity) lyrics. Black History is the theme for this month,” Watts said.
Free beverages and pastries will be provided to all participants and attendees. As a reminder, there are still COVID-19 restrictions, so there is only limited seating for thirty individuals. For more information or to sign up email Kareem Watts.
In addition to “The Lyrical Café,” CIE Director Thomas Flunker has created a monthly book club called “Diving Deeper.” During February, the featured book is Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram Kendi and Jason Reynolds, which is a non-fiction book about race in the United States.
Student led activities for Black History Month include the Pan Afrikan Student Organization’s (PASO) Black History movie nights and Student Life’s Greatest Challenges: Womxn of Color and Black History Museums. All of which are virtual hosted on Zoom throughout the month.
Watts shared how the CIE plans to celebrate and bring awareness to Black History, not just during the month of February, but every other month of the year.
“[Flunker] and I are also going to be meeting with all of our student workers soon to think of new ways to engage our African student population and other student groups as we work together on new ideas,” Watts said.
Some students though, such as First-year Kaiani Roberts Engman, feel as if there needs to be more events or more promotion for these events.
“I’ve only been aware of the Black History Museum events on black history and black women. I had seen posters, but was really told by my career counselor. I don’t think Black History Month has been celebrated or advertised enough either because there aren’t enough events or because the promotion hasn’t been done well,” Roberts Engman said.
Roberts Engman notes the importance of recognizing one’s contributions to systemic racism.
“With everything that has happened in the last year, it has brought racial and social justice to the front of people’s minds again, but everyone [needs to] understand that [these are] a systemic issue and show people how to acknowledge their white privilege,” Roberts Engman said.
Roberts Engman’s brings up the matter of African students here on campus during Black History Month, and what this month will look like for them.
“In America we often focus on Black history, but I believe it’s important to also have engaging conversations about the diaspora of people of African descent scattered around the globe during the European Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. The continent of Africa is known as the “motherland” of civilization so it’s very important to also talk about the rich history of Africa before Africans were enslaved and how things are currently,” Watts said.
“The Center (CIE) has to carefully navigate these conversations and events, mainly due to COVID as well as the fact that our African and African-American student population has drastically changed over the past three years. I am planning to meet with PASO sometime next week, to discuss possible programs [or] events that highlight the history [and] stories of our students throughout the African diaspora,” Watts said.
“Be smart, stay strong, and stay healthy maintaining the safe practice of social distancing. We are in this battle together. Let’s remember to support one another by applying the knowledge we receive to live and make a difference in this world. God bless and I leave you with these words, ‘It’s your place in the world; it’s your life. Go on and do all you can with it, and make it the life you want to live,’ [a quote by Mae Jemison, first Black Woman to travel in space in 1992],” Watts said.