Students from the African American community reflect on Black History Month and what it symbolizes
Since the 1970s, February has been nationally recognized as Black History Month, a month dedicated to celebrating the sacrifices and contributions that African Americans have made to society. UC Davis students from the African American community see the month as an opportunity to bring collective awareness to the profound impacts that African Americans have made throughout history.
Sabrina Williams, second-year communication major and the communications director of the Black Student Union at UC Davis, appreciates the notion of setting aside an entire month to allow individuals to familiarize themselves with African American history.
“I’m glad we have a month where it’s just about us,” Williams said. “It’s very important to learn about African American history, of what [has] happened in the past and what can transpire in the future. It’s good to know what people have gone through because that lets us know what we can do for the next generation.”
Williams, like many other individuals, looks at Black History Month as a time to evaluate the past and use it as a guide to working toward an improved future.
“I think black history is American history, and it’s a shame that we have to [limit] it to just one month,” said Brandon Thomas, fourth-year theater and dance major and student administrative assistant for the Center for African Diaspora Student Success. “But the thing that is special about it being dedicated to one month, even though it’s the shortest month of the year, is that there is just something magical about it. It’s a specific time to think about the past and its implications on the present and the future and about what we can do to get better as a people.”
Black History Month is also considered by many as a sacred time to reflect on the struggles that African Americans have undergone and how their strenuous efforts have yielded progress.
Thomas believes that, though African Americans have made monumental strides toward progress, they continue to fight an ongoing battle against oppressive societal forces.
“We live in an environment filled with covert racism, where people act underhandedly or they don’t even realize they’re doing it at all because they’ve been conditioned to respond and react to our people in certain ways,” Thomas said. “It feels like no matter what approach we’ve taken, we haven’t really gotten that far.”
The 2000s have given rise to various social movements, namely the Black Lives Matter movement, that aim to fight against the systemic injustices that have been inflicted onto African Americans. Aaliayah McKnight Corcran, second-year community and regional development major and the membership development coordinator for the Black Student Union, supports the movement in its goal of uniting society to work towards a critical cause.
“I feel like often times people sweep us under the rug,” Corcran said. “When we become invisible, we are made to feel like our presence and our issues are not important. In terms of the black diaspora community, I think it was really a time where we said ‘enough is enough.’ These things have always been happening, but it became a time where we couldn’t ignore it anymore. I know for me personally, it was really hard to grapple with these people being my cousins, my uncle, my brother and potentially me.”
Corcran feels that the Black Lives Matter movement, though successful to a certain extent, was misunderstood by many groups, thereby reversing the original intent of the movement.
“I think [the movement] showed other people’s colors,” Corcran said. “When it became a thing, there were so many other people saying ‘well what about us?’ And I think the whole point of the movement was missed. It just shows that sometimes other people see what we’re doing and think ‘we go through that too, why isn’t this also about us?’ I think it kind of goes back to certain groups, especially dominant groups, feeling like they have ownership over all areas of life. It’s an entitlement that they feel.”
As mentioned by Corcran, several countermovements, including the All Lives Matter and the Blue Lives Matter movements, have risen in response to the BLM movement. Auriona Adefris, a fourth-year political science major and the vice-president of the Black Pre-Law Association, stresses the importance of acknowledging the blatant oppression of African Americans instead of merely invalidating the issue.
“Black Lives Matter is trying to focus on issues that are actually happening, issues of people of color being killed by police at a higher rate than other people,” Adefris said. “Every life does matter, and no one is trying to say ‘you’re not important,’ but this [movement] is highlighting an issue that we need to be advocating for right now because it is an actual problem.”
In light of all the negative events that have transpired, UC Davis has been trying to cultivate inclusivity and create a welcoming environment for all individuals on its campus. Gwladys Keubon, a fourth-year chemical engineering major and the president of the Black Engineers Association, sees the school’s attempts as effective for the most part.
“I’m a senior, and I can tell you that yes, Davis is doing a way better job than it was when I came here as a freshman.” Keubon said. “There is a center here called CADSS [Center for African Diaspora Student Success]. Everyone from all different races are welcome there, and you’ll see this right when you walk in. It’s in perfect location, right in the middle of campus. It’s such a great feeling for me when I know that we’re not just a small group [that’s] put in the corner of the school somewhere. I would definitely say that the campus is doing better now and I hope that it keeps going.”
Other students from the African American community, however, feel that the school is doing the bare minimum in terms of promoting inclusivity and overall diversity, which in turn makes its students, especially ones that come from minority backgrounds, feel underrepresented. According to Thomas, the school could do more to invest in different multi-ethnic, multi-cultural programs on campus to provide a wider array of support and services for students of different backgrounds.
“I think UC Davis should invest more in diversity and not just put it on paper,” Thomas said. “They don’t necessarily give the proper funds and budgeting that they need to for some retention centers and different things like that to operate optimally for their targeted group of students. They need to invest in those centers and invest in their students in order to make [those] students feel more comfortable on campus.”
Written by: Emily Nguyen — firstname.lastname@example.org