February is dedicated to black history, and the Multicultural Center at Manhattan College has a plethora of events set up to celebrate and recognize contributions from the African American community.
Hayden Greene, director of multicultural affairs, helped set up and organize each event to cater to the needs of the student body.
“I think heritage months as a whole are important because we are at a place where all of these different types of people came to settle, to make great. We have a lot of history, especially with black history, that isn’t really spelled out and dived into. Black history is American history and a lot of it gets hidden from people and there needs to be a recognition of the contributions that people from the African diaspora made in this country,” said Greene.
The opening ceremony was on Monday, Feb. 6., featuring the keynote speaker Baba Abdel Salaam, the artistic director for Dance Africa at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The event was kicked off by the Brooklyn United Marching Band along with its drumline and catered by Spoon Burn.
The next day was about the Nigerian Film Festival which lasted from noon to 8 p.m. Four films from Nigeria were premiered. Nigeria is one of the largest producers of films in the world, and it is affectionately known as Nollywood. This film festival was strategically chosen to showcase interesting films that are from new and emerging producers and directors who are coming out of that market.
Jalah Jarvis, a freshman at Manhattan College, added, “Black History Month is important to me because it’s a specific time of the year where black achievement and struggle is truly acknowledged by everyone, and when I say everyone I am talking about whites, blacks, Asians, Hispanics, adults and children. It’s a time when black culture is celebrated, and it’s a shame that black culture is only really recognized by everyone in the month of February.”
On Saturday, Feb. 11., three photographers from African American Fraternities showcased their art as a way of expressing a young and fresh point of view with a different perspective. Greene also previewed his own work at the event.
“Black History Month is a great thing for people because it puts a spotlight on the many contributions that African Americans have made. Hayden Greene once told me, ‘Ten different people can walk into a room see something and have ten completely different ideas on what happened.’ This difference of viewpoint is something which sometimes gets pushed to the side.’ Black History Month helps pull it to the fore again just so we understand something; you can’t understand another man until you walk around in his skin,” said Daniel Sammon, sophomore civil engineering major. “That is why we have Black History Month and that is what makes it truly an experience; it allows us to walk in another’s skin.”
Every Friday the Multicultural Center hosts a dominoes and spades night where things that are affecting the campus and country are talked about over games and music. Throughout Black History Month, the center is playing music from noted African American artists from West Africa and South Africa.
The center’s monthly poetry reading will happen on Feb. 23. and Feb. 28.
“It will be Black History Month poetry readings so we are inviting people to speak to the diaspora and read from the diaspora and really present on that night,” said Greene. “We do a series called Coffee and Conversations around six o’clock every other week and we look at what the question of the week in the multicultural center is and we have a conversation about it. We try to focus on how the question of the week really affects our student body.”
The final events for Black History Month are during intersectionality week, recognizing multiple identities existing in one person. Because February is aligned with Women’s History Month in March, there is talk of having a panel or a series of films that has to do with black women, their status in society, issues they face and challenges they’ve overcome.
“These events are important because they allow students from different backgrounds to learn and experience new cultures and traditions. It helps break barriers and remind us that at the end of the day we’re all similar. It also allows students from that background to find a community of students on campus,” said Gabriella Montes, multicultural center employee.
“I think Black History Month is important because of the dynamic of the slave trade and the oppression of black people in this country but also all of these history months whether we are talking about LGBTQ, Irish, women, Asian and Pacific Islander, they all contributed to the fabric of this country and they don’t get addressed enough and that’s why they are important,” said Greene.
The Multicultural Center seeks to educate and provide information that will allow students to engage in important conversations. The center has been hosting events to foster conversations, including a workshop that discussed the travel ban executive order.
“I think so much can be accomplished if a simple conversation precedes all of these actions because the question is always going to be, ‘Why?’, ‘What is this achieving?’, ‘What are you trying to do?’ and ‘What are you afraid of?’. There are a number of different things we are always vigilant about and the number one thing is being able to stand up for your identity and represent who you are without fear,” said Greene.
“There is a legal and judicial side to the actions which is being taken care of by the dean of students and that’s not something the multicultural center is involved in. The other piece that the multicultural center is involved in is really fostering a sense of inclusivity and equity on campus,” said Greene.
“All of the ism’s, whether we are talking about racism, sexism, ageism, are based on a perception that resources and power are finite. Once we get to the point where we recognize the contributions and power of everyone in society and all their identities, the struggle to keep a certain subset of the community down will start to fizz out and dissipate. That only happens when our allies and people who are part of the dominate culture and identities are the ones who speak up for the people who have been oppressed and have been disenfranchised throughout history in this country,” Greene said.
The Multicultural Center is open throughout the day and the staff extends their ears to listen. The center hopes to provide leadership development along with a safe space where student’s voices can be heard.
“I think it’s necessary to remember all the important contributions, achievements and strides of African-Americans throughout our history. Especially now, I think it’s very important that we take the time to acknowledge everything that people have done to get to where we are today. Celebrating and acknowledging Black History Month on campus is not only beneficial to African-Americans students but to a student body as a whole. It brings awareness and information to people who maybe otherwise wouldn’t be exposed to it, just like any other heritage month celebration the Multicultural center hosts,” said Montes.
“I love that people from all kinds of backgrounds can come together and recognize black achievement, but I also wish that every month, every day, everyone would recognize each other’s cultural differences and celebrate them, rather than use cultural difference as a way to divide themselves from one another,” said Jarvis.