Remembering the past, celebrating the present and looking toward the future: Black History Month begins at YSU

By Aileen Blaine

Black History Month kicked off Feb. 1 and is a month dedicated to the recognition of the many contributions Black Americans make to the American story. Youngstown State University has a calendar full of events to celebrate. 

At its origin in February 1926, Negro History Week originally incorporated the birthdays of Frederick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln. In 1976, former President Gerald Ford encouraged Americans to acknowledge the accomplishments of Black Americans. Since then, the celebration now spans the length of February. 

Carol Bennett, assistant provost of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, said she decided to stray from this year’s theme of Black health and wellness set by the National Association for the Study of African American Life and History. Instead, YSU’s theme this year is Remembering the Past, Celebrating the Present and Looking Toward the Future. Events range from movie nights and seminars to karaoke nights and open discussions on current issues. 

On Feb. 8, a “Shades of Blue” discussion will take place. Black police officers will share their experiences of working in law enforcement and the situations they’ve faced. 

“[During the Black Lives Matter protests], they had to go out and disperse crowds and were even told to use force when necessary,” Bennett said. “How does that affect their lives? How does the injustice and inequality affect them?”

Next week, Cryshanna Jackson Leftwich, chair of the politics and international relations department, will share and discuss what it’s like to be one of the few Black female tenured faculty members at the university. 

“I will touch on … discussing the importance of ‘representation’ at [predominantly white institutions] of faculty and staff,” Jackson said. “I will also talk about the challenges of bringing up racial inequities to administration and other faculty when you are the only African American in the room.”

Her presentation will also provide suggestions and solutions to create a more inclusive environment in the classroom and on campus.

The showing of the film “Judas and the Black Messiah” later this month will open the floor for a discussion about Fred Hampton and the role the Black Panther Party has played in helping communities and assistance programs. The film will also open the floor for dismantling the misconceptions about the party. 

“A lot of people don’t know — and a lot of people don’t understand — what the Panther Party was really all about,” Bennett said. “They were not racist, and they were not against the police, but they were protecting the community, and they were so important in our after-school programs we have today.”

For those interested in having some fun, the campus Black Student Union will host a karaoke competition night. Participants can join teams and compete.

“It’s a way to get students out, have some fun and de-stress,” Bennett said. 

Black Student Union will also host a guest speaker, an elder from the community who grew up in the South. In her talk, she will share her experiences about moving to the Mahoning Valley and her past. 

Feb. 26 brings a Men of Color Summit, a public discussion providing men a space to talk about how they navigate masculinity in a changing world. 

“I want to get a student organization together, and I’m hoping that the summit will help that,” Bennett said. “I’m also hoping that it will grow until we can have it larger, have other schools register and we get donations to keep it free and open to the public.”

For more information or a calendar of events, visit the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion’s website.