Black History Month in review

Black History Month, although the shortest month of the year, is the black student’s month to shine. Prideful planning and preparation begins months in advance, often around October or November. February is possibly the one month of the year on this campus where we can feel like the majority, for most of the major events pertain to us. This year, Black History Month spanned Feb. 7 to March 1, a 22 day period jam-packed with high-quality events. The theme was “My Brother is my Keeper” – brother meaning brother/sister. It addressed an issue that plagues black students graduating from institutions such as Williams: namely, giving back to one’s community. We focused on giving back through spiritual, emotional, political and especially economic support.

The month started off with a bang at Convocation in Goodrich, with Keenan Keller as the guest speaker. Among the month’s highlights was Soul Food Night, at which about members of the BSU community shared their skills in the kitchen and cooked for other students, faculty and administration. It felt great to finish a meal and actually feel satisfied.

Scattered throughout the month were four faculty lectures at Dodd, delivered by Tess Chakkalakal, Alex Willingham, Kenda Mutongi and D.L. Smith. They addressed issues ranging from reevaluating the relevance of Black History icons such as Dr. Martin Luther King to the issue of remittances faced by many black international students at Williams. On Feb. 21, the BSU, along with the English department, sponsored a talk by Aaron McGruder – the creator of the Boondocks comic strip – that proved to be the highlight of the month. It was quite refreshing to hear a speaker that did not have to censor his speech or hold his tongue because what he said did not agree with the majority. It was even more invigorating to look up and see that it was a successful, politically active, young black male speaking. The event was well attended, and rightfully so: his presence was a welcome breath of fresh air on this stringently politically correct campus. Students were able to hear how the truth can often hurt, for McGruder clearly had no desire to make people feel comfortable. He is not to be mistaken for a political comic; it’s just that sometimes the truth hurts so much that the only thing left to do is laugh.

The last week of February was filled with events from the third annual Stalwart Conference. It is an event that Sandra Burton of the dance program and Anna Bean of the theater department started three years ago and have seen grow tremendously. The two decided that they would change the event this year so that the focus would be on the campus instead of last year’s Mass MoCa base. Moreover, while last year all the performances were held on one weekend, this year, they were spread throughout the week. This change proved to be for the best: the organizers witnessed the largest turnout to date. The focus next year will be to include more people from nearby colleges ranging from MCLA and Amherst, but this should be a mere matter of planning. Speaking of planning, there can never seem to be enough for Black History Month events: Elizabeth Eckford of the Little Rock Nine and Thomas Garrett, the keynote speaker, were not able to speak due to unexpected weather conditions. It is unclear whether or not these speakers will be rescheduled for a later date, but the BSU board will be sure to keep the campus informed.

As a member of the BSU board, I feel that our efforts were evident in the quality of the events. Unfortunately, however, events (especially the small ones) were often attended exclusively by black students. I have no intention to discount the educational value that the events had for black students, but I can’t lie: it would have been nice to attend events such as the faculty lectures in Dodd with people who I do not see at every Sunday BSU meeting. While it is an unfair request to ask students to attend events that they have no interest in, an important issue is nonetheless raised: What has to be done to connect the communities on this campus so that even if an event does not pertain to your “circle,” you will care enough to know more about it?

Clearly, Williams students already have a lot on their plates, from athletics to academics, and attending Black History Month events will, surely, not help you pass your exam or finish your problem set. But such events help the Williams community to realize the innate good in cultural exposure. In conclusion: Do I feel that the month was a success? Yes. However, I have to admit that after all of the blood, sweat and tears that went into planning, seeing an empty seat at an event always hurts. If you were not able to support your black peers this year, then just attend next year. If not for you, do it for me.