For most of February, the Black Cultural Center was hard at work with creating the University of Wisconsin’s Black History Month, and with the help of their student-run planning committee, this year was one for the books.
The Black History Month Student Planning Committee has filled Februarys with African American heritage and recognition events since 2014. They work with students to ensure that Black History Month is well-represented and recognized by the campus community.
Planning starts in the fall, and the Center sends out posters, emails and other advertisements to recruit their committee members. According to the Multicultural Student Center website, the committee began meeting in October on Wednesdays from 6-8 p.m., breaking into roles like Graphic Designer, Publicity Manager and Record Keeper.
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“We started off bouncing ideas for the general theme. We wanted to move away from this campaign of oppression upon the Black Community and look towards the future,” Co-Chair Adrianna Griffin-Phipps said.
Griffin-Phipps has been on the committee since 2017 and came into the role with experience and determination.
Along with its leadership and bigger roles, the group had a number of subcommittees for social justice, health and wellness, culture and history, social interaction and kick-off event planning.
Together, the Center and the group of students decided on UW’s Black History Month theme — Afrofuturism, defined on their webpage as “the (re)imagining of the future for Black people through various mediums such as the arts, media, and literature.”
The whole title, “Afrofuturism: B(l)ack to the Future,” stems from the science fiction genre of literature and art, but in the case of Black History Month, its reach extends much farther.
It challenges participants to see how the voices and actions of past African Americans have shaped the present, and furthermore, how they guide us into the future.
“It’s so broad, it can literally mean anything and that’s why we chose it,” Griffin-Phipps said. “It was a great experience to expose the campus to something different about Black life and the creativity within Black minds.”
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The student planning committee accomplished this in many different events planned through late January and into February. After Mae Jemison’s appearance as the MLK Jr. Memorial Speaker, they kicked off festivities with an “Afrofuturistic Affair,” a dinner dance that encouraged participants to respond to the theme in clothing, conversation and music.
From there, the committee and other groups had events planned every week. There were art workshops, speakers, food tastings and networking opportunities. For upcoming events, there’s “Moonshine,” a gathering of dance, spoken word and experimental contemporary performance. The Gender and Sexuality Campus Center is hosting “Queer Black Love: A Photo Series,” a gallery of photography by Cammie Nicole.
There’s even a weekly screening of Netflix’s “Pose,” a show about LGBTQ+ Blacks in the 80s, at Witte Residence Hall.
The committee also scheduled professor, politician, director, musician and Emmy award-winning producer Pierce Freelon as a keynote speaker. On Feb. 27 at 6 p.m., Freelon will dive into the ideas behind Afrofuturism followed by a freestyle beat-making session at Union South.
An additional, month-long opportunity to celebrate Black History Month is through the BCC’s featured artist, Shiloah Symone. A graduating senior at UW, Symone’s portraiture explores the Black body and can be viewed at the BCC’s office gallery.
The festivities will end with “Trap Karaoke” on Saturday, Feb. 29 at the Argus Bar and Grill.
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For events they planned, the committee wanted to include some of the research they did, highlighting two main historical movements — the African diaspora and the UW’s Black Student Strike of 1969.
The diaspora has seen rising numbers of Africans immigrating to the United States and has affected the meaning of Black heritage for the past few decades. While its effects reach all corners of the country, the student strike has a certain historical impact on campus.
A link on the UW Black History Month 2020 webpage takes you to a multimedia depiction of the 13 demands. Facing segregation and severe inequality, students and faculty of all races joined together and created a list of demands for the chancellor’s office.
What started as a class boycott turned into a month of strikes and clashes with police, university management, the government and even the military.
Most of this research was completed for last February’s program, but Griffin-Phipps commented on how it contextualized the meaning of this year’s theme.
“Last year, we went to UW Archives to look up exactly what happened and how we could program around that and celebrate the fact that so many of those people are still here and the things they enacted are still alive,” Griffin-Phipps said.
The timelines give you perspective — the photos give you goosebumps — the interviews jerk your heart. The entire page allows viewers to recognize the impact of the UW’s Black Community, and how hard they pushed to get where they are today.
But even as the month reaches a close, it’s important to remember that cultures should be honored year-round. The strength, courage and sacrifice of the Black community deserves that and more.
“Black History Month is more than a month — it’s a movement,” Griffin-Phipps said. “And it’s not just during the month of February — we need support throughout the rest of our lives. Delve deep into Afrofuturism — it’s a movement, and it’s coming.”