BYU students and professors celebrate Black History Month

BSU participants and other BYU students gather at the Education in Zion gallery for a Black History month FHE activity (Nana Buah, Justin Tyree, Paige Singleton, Brianna Wright, Jessi Macedone, Courage Tamakloe, Bridgett Mayes, Chris Kinghorn) (Jessica Banuelos)
Black Student Union participants gather at the Education in Zion gallery for a black history month FHE activity. (Jessica Banuelos)

Students and professors at BYU make it a priority to celebrate African-American history during February. Involved students have been speaking up about the purpose of Black History Month and exactly how BYU should celebrate it as activities on campus are organized.

Brianna Wright, a Mexican–African American sophomore from California, said she has participated with Black Student Union by attending club meetings and finding opportunities to learn about her ancestors’ history.

Black Student Union is a student club dedicated to learning and educating others about African American heritage and serving the community through activities and culture awareness.

“It is a time to celebrate African-American achievements and contributions to our society,” Wright said. “As a young girl my father and mother always tried to educate me about the things our ancestors and other people had done so I could be a free woman and go to school.”

Many African-American students, along with Wright, said they find it important to remember and celebrate Black History Month because it helps them appreciate their culture. Wright said it would be nice to share her culture with the rest of society since black contributors are often overlooked in text books and American history.

“For me it means a lot,” Wright said. “It’s a time I can reflect on the sacrifices of others and how I can be better. It’s important to remember them because to me it’s a part of our identity. It’s something important because we are reminded of our freedom that was bought with sacrifice and work.”

Leslie Hadfield, a BYU professor of African history, agreed that black history should be acknowledged and celebrated through taking the time to educate oneself about the struggles many experienced to have the same rights others had in this country.

“It’s a big part of our history,” Hadfield said. “It’s a big part of history of the world. Understanding that helps us understand our world and how we fit in it today.”

She encouraged all students to understand why civil right leaders who fought for their freedom “really secured the freedom for all of us.” She said celebrating black history is about learning from the past every year and even “reaching out to other people from different communities to learn about their history.”

She also said learning about black history will improve people’s understanding about others and resolve issues such as stereotyping.

“When we try to understand people in the past, it helps us understand people in the present and be more forgiving. That will help us move forward,” Hadfield said. “When we educate ourselves about others with different backgrounds, we are more likely to empathize with them. We can have dialogue and solve problems instead of just butting heads.”

Bridgett Mayes, president of Black Student Union and a junior studying computer science, said she wants others on campus to celebrate black history month because it acknowledges those who sacrificed so much and helps unite today’s society.

“My family is from the South so a lot of my relatives, along with myself, have dealt with racism,” Mayes said. “I think it’s important for me to know about the history and the struggle my own family went through. If I wasn’t aware I think that’s acting as if what they went through wasn’t important.”

She said Black History Month not only opens minds but can help anyone learn to love each other more.

“A lot of opinions people develop is because they are ignorant about how people feel,” Mayes said. “Becoming aware of others will change how you think.”

Mayes and Wright agreed that being a minority at BYU can be uncomfortable at times, but said this is why there are activities and events to help bring those with different backgrounds together.

“Don’t be uncomfortable coming to activities. It’s BSU’s purpose to be open and an organization where anyone can ask or answer questions about race or current issues,” Mayes said.

Wright, Hadfield and Mayes also argued that black history can be celebrated by everyone, not just African-Americans. Wright said that while seeing past color is good, it is important to remember one’s background.

“A lot of people argue we need to practice color blindness. I think we should acknowledge color because to me, the color of my skin and who I am culturally represents a lot,” Wright said. “It symbolizes the struggle for freedom and achievement.”

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