Marking the end of Black History Month, the University of Wisconsin community celebrated a dedication and libation ceremony for the Black Cultural Center in the Red Gym.
Though the center will remain under construction in the following months, the ceremony served as a “soft opening” Tuesday.
Hazel Symonette, director of the Student Success Institute, along with Black Student Union President and UW student Marquise Mays kicked off the ceremony by making an offering to the First Nations and African American ancestors.
“There are voices from the future and they’re calling all of our names,” Symonette said.
Both Symonette and Mays brought attention to the university’s history by acknowledging the Native land upon which it is built.
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Chancellor Rebecca Blank also attended the ceremony and paid tribute to distinguished African Americans in the university’s history.
Among those she mentioned were William Smith Noland, who in 1875 became the first African American to graduate from the university, and Mabel Watson Raimey, who in 1918 became the first African American woman to graduate from the university. She later became the first female African American attorney in Wisconsin.
“It is difficult to imagine a more fitting way to close African American History Month than by opening this space,” Blank said.
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Patrick Sims, the vice provost for diversity and climate, proceeded after Blank and echoed the remarks of Symonette by acknowledging the Ho-Chunk Nation.
Sims told the crowd they should recognize they are standing on Ho-Chunk land and respectfully acknowledge “our indigenous people in this region.”
Sandra Adell from the Afro-American Studies Department provided a history of African American actions on campus to foster a more inclusive community. She discussed the 1968-69 protests, which pressured the administration to create the first center for black students — the Afro-American and Race Relations Center.
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The BCC will serve black students “by facilitating opportunities for academic and social support, co-curricular programming and community building,” according to its mission statement.
Karla Foster, a key organizer for the BCC Advisory Board, has also helped organize the Black History Month events on campus centered around black joy.
The grand opening for the BCC will take place in early May. Until then, Foster said there is still an “immense amount” of work to be done, including a design for the entryway, construction for improved acoustics and staff appointment.
“Happy, grateful and humble,” are the words Foster used to characterize her emotions at the end of the night.