Irene Jiang

Black History Month, which celebrates the role and achievements of African-Americans in the United States, is well under way on campus. Working together with affiliated groups and departments, the Afro-American Cultural Center is bringing speakers and events to Yale in a monthlong celebration of black history. The theme this year is “Roots, Rebirth and Renaissance.”

The packed schedule of events for Black History Month kicked off at the Af-Am House this past Saturday with the Digital Diaspora Family Reunion, during which attendees worked with filmmaker and artist Thomas Allen Harris to explore the construction of identity and community through photography and storytelling. The event was co-sponsored by the Department of African American Studies and included presentations by Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway and Coordinator of Arts for Yale College Daisy Abreu, as well as by students and other contributors. Looking ahead to the remaining weeks of this month, student planners and administrators interviewed all emphasized that the scope and depth of events planned for this year’s Black History Month set it apart from past celebrations.

“This year’s Black History Month theme, ‘Roots, Rebirth and Renaissance,’ gives us an opportunity to explore our roots and learn more about our history, not only here in the United States, but across the African diaspora,” said Nicole Tinson DIV ’16, a member of the Black History Month planning committee at the Af-Am House and one of the organizers of a massive race teach-in at Battell Chapel last November. “This month also gives us an opportunity to fully engage with the New Haven community as well as the Yale community.”

Af-Am House Director Risë Nelson told the News that planning for the Black History Month was a joint effort across many affiliated groups. She cited the 21st annual Black Solidarity Conference at Yale — set to take place this weekend from Feb. 11 to Feb. 14 — as an example of an event hosted in honor of Black History Month. The conference, one of the largest at Yale, will bring over 700 diverse undergraduates from different universities to campus for discussions and other activities pertaining to the African diaspora.

Other events, Nelson added, include a performance by actor Roger Guenveur Smith DRA ’83 on Feb. 19 and 20 in the Morse-Stiles Crescent Theater. Smith will perform “Rodney King” — a monologue about the construction worker who was brutally beaten by the Los Angeles police in 1991 and whose case incited widespread protests throughout the city following the officers’ acquittal the next year. The Af-Am House and the African American Studies Department will host a reception for Smith after his show on Saturday.

Still, Nelson said the highlight of the month will take place during the last weekend of February in a three-day series called the Celebration of Black Life Festival, which will honor “the rich cultures, histories and traditions of the African Diaspora.” Sponsored by the Office of the Secretary and Vice President of Student Life, the festival will include a brunch conversation with Mayor Toni Harp, who will discuss possibilities of coalition building between student organizations on campus and local ones throughout New Haven. The Af-Am House will also host Nadia Lopez, a Black Girls Rock! honoree and the principal of Mott Hall Bridges Academy in Brooklyn, New York, whose leadership and story have been featured on Humans of New York, as well as Laduma Ngxokolo, a South African designer who will lead a session on the Black image. A photo exhibit, a student showcase and an event focused on the intersection of art, athletics and politics are also planned for the weekend.

Student planners interviewed said they are optimistic about the potential for building a better relationship between Yale and the New Haven community. Others noted the tumultuous weeks of student demonstrations about the racial climate on campus last semester and their unique impact on Black History Month celebrations this year.

“In this moment, I think about the undergraduates’ chant: ‘We out here, we been here, we ain’t leaving, we are loved.’ Celebrating Black History Month at Yale demonstrates that love pierces through when we value people from the African diaspora,” N’Kosi Oates DIV ’17 told the News. “Ultimately, authentic love shines when everyone believes that our racial and cultural identity matter.”

Black History Month was formally recognized by the U.S. government in 1976.