Elis reflect on goals of Black History Month

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The concept of Black History Month remains relevant, though its current incarnation might need to be adjusted, a handful of students affiliated with the Afro-American Cultural Center concluded Tuesday night.

At a discussion sponsored by the center, participants debated whether Black History Month is still relevant. The eight students present agreed that awareness of the lives and contributions of African Americans is vital to a well-rounded education. But among the students, the question of how best to raise awareness remained a contentious issue.

Several participants argued that devoting only a single month to the history of the African-American experience might send the implicit message that black history is of lesser importance or separate from history itself; they proposed expanding the month or integrating its teachings into the broader American history curriculum.

Other students told anecdotes of their own evolving feelings toward the celebration. Some noted that, as children, the month had a positive effect on their self-esteem.

For Alexandria Gillon ’11, the Black History Month events that took place in Georgia when she was a child helped her understand her heritage.

“My mother was a small woman, but then out of her mouth would come these very Black Panther things,” she said. “And being surrounded by people of all cultures was definitely good for me.”

Jamilah Prince-Stewart ’09 enumerated what she saw to be the three goals of Black History Month: “Education, celebration and action.” Others agreed with her assessment, noting that the increased attention and energy during the month could also be used to fight for socioeconomic and political equality.

“We should promote history but also, simultaneously, empowerment and actual change,” Prince-Stewart said.

Students were in general agreement that more emphasis should be put on lesser-known figures who may have played equally important roles in society, including those affiliated with the University.

Discussion leader Jeremy Harp ’10 said while many people know that Edward Bouchet — the first black man to receive a doctorate from an American university — graduated from Yale, fewer are aware of other important people and events in the history of African-Americans at the University.

“I would like to see Black History Month put more of a focus not on the popular figures such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, but on those lay figures who also did so much,” Harp said.

The debate, which was sponsored by the Black Student Alliance at Yale, is one of many events planned for Black History Month at Yale, including a Trumbull College Master’s Tea on Thursday with New Orleans mayoral candidate James Perry and the 14th annual Black Solidarity Conference at the end of the month.

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