For many student organizations at the University of Wisconsin, February represents an opportunity to explore the dynamics shaping today’s cultural landscape, and help Black students navigate their place within a broader diaspora.
To celebrate Black History Month, several organizations are hosting events tied to this year’s theme: “Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity.”
The 2021 theme intends to explore the African diaspora, which encyclopedia.com defines as the many communities of people of African descent dispersed throughout the globe as a result of forced migration and the resulting identities these populations developed in their respective locations.
Each year the theme is chosen to “reflect changes in how people of African descent in the United States have viewed themselves, the influence of social movements on racial ideologies and the aspirations of the Black community,” according to the Association for the Study of African American Life and History website.
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“The Black family knows no single location since family reunions and genetic-ancestry searches testify to the spread of family members across states, nations and continents. Not only are individual Black families diasporic, but Africa and the diaspora itself have been long portrayed as the Black family at large,” the ASALH said. “The family offers a rich tapestry of images for exploring the African American past and present.”
UW BIPOC Coalition announced their Black History Month events Feb. 1 on their Instagram page, starting with “Understanding the Whitewashing of US and UW History,” — a Zoom presentation and discussion.
Juliana Bennett, one of the founders of the UW BIPOC Coalition, said this event was intended to help students understand how curriculum used in the majority of schools across the U.S. covers “white history” and does not comprehensively address the history of African Americans.
“If you take a Black history course, you will learn a lot of Black history was not documented,” Bennett said. “At BIPOC [Coalition], we are really centering on understanding our history and celebrating Blackness and Black history.”
Additionally, the organization will release a podcast on diversity in the media, hosting a presentation and discussion on protest art and highlighting local Black Madison artists on their social media pages throughout the month, Bennett said.
Bennett said she reflected on her own family history when planning the events for Black History Month, tracing the movement of her ancestors across different regions in the U.S. to her current home in Wisconsin.
“We not only survived our history, we have thrived,” Bennett said. “We have our family and we are able to experience joy and unity through that. Black history is told through the generations, through family and storytelling.”
Another student organization on campus, Wisconsin Black Student Union, began a new initiative this semester called “Kickin It with WBSU,” according to their Jan. 31 Instagram livestream. Every Sunday at 2:00 p.m. during Black History Month, the organization will go live on their Instagram page to discuss and explore what it means to be Black and different cultures within the African diaspora.
Secretary Joya Headley and Publicist Robin Robinson announced the series called “Finding Joy in Our R.O.O.T.S.” on a livestream from Jan. 31. Headley and Robinson spoke about the intent behind the focus on the diaspora during their Black History Month events during the livestream.
“We want to really acknowledge the fact that we are from a larger diaspora and being African American in this country is far deeper than just the identity that has been given to us,” Robinson said in the livestream.
WBSU began the series Feb. 2 with “Dive Into the Diaspora,” an event presenting a panel of student speakers and lively discussion on the importance of the diaspora.
“Rediscovering Our Joy” is a two-part event on Feb. 12 and 13 featuring performances and conversation addressing what it means to be Black and happy, Headley said. The organization will also hand out care packages at the Student Activity Center.
The next event in the series is “Watering Our Roots,” which will center on nurturing spiritual health and building self-care routines.
“To close off Black History Month, we are going to have a keynote conversation with Queen Afua, who is a very popular spiritual teacher,” Headley said. “Anyone can listen to her speak about how we can get in touch with our spiritual selves and our ancestors.”