The Yale–New Haven community is celebrating Black History Month with a full roster of events, including a Feb. 3 opening lecture from Cornel West, a screening and discussion last week of the documentary “The Trials of Muhammad Ali,” and an upcoming party to celebrate the premiere of the Marvel movie “Black Panther.”
Last year, Black History Month came in the midst of both President Donald Trump’s January inauguration and the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Black Panther Party, leading to extensive conversations on campus about political resistance in the age of Trump. One year later, members of the Yale and New Haven communities are once more participating in Black History Month events, which explore topics ranging from theology to “RAPtivism,” or rap activism. Events have been organized by a wide range of groups and organizations at Yale, including the Afro-American Cultural Center at Yale, the Black Student Alliance at Yale, the Office of Gender and Campus Culture, the Yale Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration, the Yale University Art Gallery and various graduate and professional schools, among others.
Dianne Lake ’16 LAW ’20 , a graduate assistant in the Afro-American Cultural Center and the primary coordinator of the center’s Black History Month programming, noted that while this month’s programming has no particular theme, she hopes the monthlong event series will offer something meaningful to both black students and the Yale–New Haven community in general.
“At the Af-Am House we celebrate black history year-round, so we don’t necessarily have a theme for this month’s programming, but our hope is that the Yale community at large will come together this month and take advantage of these special opportunities to engage with and reflect on the history of the black experience in the U.S. and celebrate the important contributions and achievements of African-Americans throughout history and today,” Lake said. “For black students in particular, the house prioritizes not only opportunities to engage critically with the experiences and legacies of our ancestors but also opportunities to come together in joy and celebration for the culture.”
Roughly 850 people filled up Battell Chapel earlier this month to listen to Cornel West’s keynote address, during which he discussed the sacrifices required to maintain integrity and uphold truth in public discourse.
Nia Berrian ’19, president of the Black Students Alliance at Yale, said West’s overwhelmingly popular lecture was a great way to start of the month. She added that she has been impressed by the wide range of programming scheduled for Black History Month this year.
“This year I’ve seen a lot more from the Yale administration, and I think that’s probably because we have a growing diversity in the administration itself,” Berrian said. “Different colleges are taking on different things. You see more things around campus about it, all the programs aren’t just from the same three groups in the house.”
Other events that have taken place so far include the 23rd Annual Black Solidarity Conference at Yale, a conversation with the Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas — a theologian and the first African-American dean of Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary — hosted by the Yale Divinity School, and an artist talk at the Yale University Art Gallery with Jefferson Pinder.
Upcoming events include “The Art of Medicine: Sickle Cell Anemia,” hosted by the Yale School of Medicine; “BlackOUT: A Celebration of Afro-Heritage,” which will be held at the School of Management; and “Freedom Song,” a “social justice storytelling workshop” with Aisha Fukushima at the Yale Law School.
Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun commended Afro-American Cultural Center Director Risë Nelson and student groups such as BSAY for their efforts in organizing Black History Month.
“The Af-Am House has made an effort to support and energize organizations around campus putting on events, and one significant part of my work is putting together and circulating a calendar of all the various Black History Month events around campus,” Lake said. “The [director] of the Af-Am House, Risë Nelson, is particularly invested in making sure we engage with and remain accessible to the New Haven community by keeping almost all of our events free and open to the public.”
For many students, the upcoming premiere of the Marvel movie “Black Panther” may be the highlight of this year’s events. Lexi Hopkins ’20, who is involved in BSAY and the Afro-American Cultural Center, said that, while all of this year’s events are exciting, seeing the Black Panther movie together “as a house” will be particularly special.
The first celebration of Black History Month took place at Kent State University in February 1970, six years before President Gerald Ford LAW ’41 officially recognized the month.
Britton O’Daly | firstname.lastname@example.org