Black History Month is upon us. As the nation prepared for the annual celebration of African-American history, culture, and achievements, the Florida A&M University campus community is conspicuously quiet about the festivities.
African-American historian and educator Carter G. Woodson founded Black History Month in 1926. “Negro History Week”, its original name given by Woodson, was established in conjunction with the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). The group selected the second week in February to recognize the birthdays of Fredrick Douglas, an early African-American historian and abolitionist, and President Abraham Lincoln, signer of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Negro History week eventually evolved into “Black History Month” during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. In 1976, President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month and called on the nation to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history”.
However, in 2017, Black History Month programs and initiatives have decreased tremendously at FAMU. The Office of Student Activities, which is the university department primarily responsible for planning and implementing on campus programming for the student body, is only planning a black history fact campaign for the month. Student Government Association Joint Operations officials have also stated that there are currently no programs or initiatives in the works to commemorate the month.
The same can be echoed around campus. The University Office of Communications reported that the only official events from the university are the annual Black History Convocation in Gaither Gymnasium on February 10th and the Harambee Festival on February 25th at Cascade Park. The FAMU Department of History has not released any events to date.
Regardless of the fact that it is the 3rd largest Historically Black College or University in the nation (according to 2016 statistics reported by HBCUlifestyle.com) FAMU has been caviler regarding the annual celebration of black culture and achievement.
Mary Brown-Ellis, HR Coordinator of Student Government Association, remembers a time when there was ample activity surrounding Black History Month on campus. “Things were going on all the time on campus.” Said Ellis. “We had all different organizations and OSA and SGA participating in events every day to celebrate”.
The reverence of Black History Month has tangibly diminished on the campus. However some students feel that this isn’t an indication that the spirit of Black History is lost on campus.
“I think what’s beautiful about FAMU is that we are black history,” Titus Zeigler, a third year biology pre-medical student from Atlanta, Georgia, said. “It doesn’t really bother me that there isn’t too much focus on the month because we celebrate 365 days a year. We embody that.” Zeigler serves as the current Basilus of the Upsilon Psi Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., an organization that greatly revers the month, as Woodson was also a member of Omega Psi Phi.
The Upsilon Psi chapter is preparing their annual “28 Days of Black History” campaign for the month; an event that Zeigler says has been taking place annually for the last 10 years.
Some student groups are also choosing non-traditional ways to celebrate the month. E=MC2, a campus and community based professional empowerment and community service non-profit group, plans to launch their ‘Be YOUnique” campaign for the entire month of February to articulate the importance of celebrating self-love, blackness, and cultural legacy in students and community members.
“We decided to celebrate Black History Month by celebrating the individual uniqueness of black people” Victor Chrispin, founder and director of the group, said. “We are planning an event, post, or program every day in February to do so.”
E=MC2 is also partnering with the First Year Experience Program Peer Mentors to produce the “Orange, Green, and BLACK Showcase” on February 26th. The showcase will chronicle the history and cultural significance of FAMU, and stress the importance of carrying the torch of the African-American pioneers it has produced.
As we enter this season of the celebration of blackness, one can hope that the importance of Black History Month will resonate with the university community.