My blinking increases as I try to hold back my tears from escaping. I’m staring at the floor as my therapist is looking at me, waiting for me to answer her question. Her voice startles me as she begins to speak again. “Yvette? Are you okay? Tell me what’s been going on in your life.” […]
Every February, Black History Month is a recognition of black people’s achievement that highlights important dates and events in the African diaspora, educating those who are unfamiliar or misinformed and igniting action in those who are desperate for change. At least that’s what it’s supposed to be.
The month was hardly recognized at LaGuardia Community College and its promotion did not begin until mid-February. Unlike the standard calendar for most CUNY schools, the last day of classes for the Fall semester was February 14th.
“I haven’t seen anything,” says Computer Science major Ryan Tahal, when asked what LaGuardia has done to celebrate Black History Month. “I’d rather just celebrate in March [when] we get to participate in it.”
Tyrone Senra, also a Computer Science major and participant in the Black Male Empowerment Cooperative (BMEC), opines on the month’s significance and LaGuardia’s past efforts to celebrate it, “We need to know our culture, our history. They always have important people come here and speak to us.” He also agrees with the premise of pushing the celebration to March, “It always should be in March. Once the semester starts, that’s when all the students come.”
Hidden Figures, one of two movies LaGuardia chose to feature, is a biographical drama that was released in 2016, that sheds light on the mathematical contributions of black women working in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). It is a significant film in black culture that provides an education on a story that was weakly represented in United States history.
The other film scheduled to be featured was More Than a Month, a documentary directed by Shukree Tilghman that challenges the concept of Black History Month and questions whether black history should be contained within one month.
It was one of two major events scheduled for February 28th, five days after final exams. The other event was an open mic called “Sounds of Blackness.” Both were canceled.
Tara Hickman, who works with the LaGuardia and Wagner Archives and is a professor of the Social Sciences department, agrees that LaGuardia’s unusual academic calendar hinders the school’s ability to honor the holiday but feels there is a bigger picture to be seen. “The problem is way deeper than Black History Month. I think a big part of equality is not segregating ethnicities to certain months. There has been a rift in the community on whether or not that’s helpful.”
Although she acknowledges that this is not an issue exclusive to black people, Ms. Hickman calls attention to a long-standing debate on integrating Black History month into general American history instead of having a stand-alone, celebratory month, “It’s for the colonizer to make them feel good about themselves. I think all ethnicities should be celebrated all year long.”
Two boards of quotes called “Words of Wisdom” are located in the E-Atrium and by the elevators in the C-Building. They serve as a platform for students to share their feelings on Black History month and feature powerful words of inspiration from civil rights legends and people who have broken political barriers, including Martin Luther King Jr., Shirley Chisholm, and Harriet Tubman.
Of the thirty-four blank cards that are left specifically for students, only five have been filled out as of February 25, 2018.
In the past years, LaGuardia has hosted panels and invited local experts to share their wisdom, “They used to have people who would come and talk. I would receive invitations in my email,” says Balbina Salas, a 2016 graduate who studied Mechanical Engineering.
Disappointed with LaGuardia’s efforts, Jeffrey Kazembe Batts, who has spent twelve years at Student Life as an Office Assistant and Student Affairs Educator, feels Black History Month should be “a college-wide celebration that includes political and current events, historical legacies, cultural activities, workshops and prominent keynote speakers.”
How might this change happen? Mr. Batts says, “By putting Kazembe in charge.”