March 3, 2013

Cornell Celebrates Black History in Ceremony

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Members of the Cornell community concluded the celebration of Black History Month with a ceremony called “Black is … Political, Beautiful, Innovative, Artistic” Saturday.

The ceremony — which took place in the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art — featured student performances, as well as a keynote speech by Prof. Lance Collins, mechanical and aerospace engineering, dean of the College of Engineering.

In his speech, Collins said African Americans have seen great progress toward increased representation in higher education.

“I really could not imagine the things that are happening today when I was in college. … The notion of having a black president did not even exist,” Collins said. “You might feel isolated and alone as the only black student in your class, but history tells us you are not as alone as you think you are.”

In another part of the ceremony, members of the audience were asked what Black History Month meant to them.

Many students present at the ceremony said that Black History Month is a time to both celebrate African American culture and pay remembrance to earlier struggles faced by African Americans in history.

“Black History Month is about the ability to inspire the youth and let them know that ‘the system’ is not only out to get them,” said Selam Gebre ’14, co-chair of Black Students United.

Tau’ian Bly ’15, BSU’s Black History Month chair, agreed, describing the month as “a time when we can all come together and pay it forward.”

Gebre added that black history is often underrepresented in traditional accounts of American history, something Black History Month can help change.

“[Black History Month] is about the recognition of African American achievements and helps set the precedent for a lot of cultural changes,” she said. “It represents what is traditionally not represented before.”

Bly said the large amount of work contributed by BSU members made Black History Month a success this year. In addition to hosting Saturday’s ceremony, BSU also organized a series of dinners in Cornell’s dining halls featuring food celebrating African American culture, displays in Cornell libraries and a discussion in Ujamaa Residential College about the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, a black teen.

“The ceremony is a product of all our hard work,” Bly said.

In addition to the speech and discussion, the closing ceremony also included musical and dance performances by various students, including a violin performance by Briana Fullwood ’15.

Shannon Cohall ’14, co-chair of BSU, said the events held throughout Black History Month were a great way “to show people diversity in the African American community.”

Still, some students said there is room for improvement.

Carlton Burrell ’16, a BSU member who was present at the ceremony, said he would have liked to have seen more ethnic diversity at the Black History Month events. Though the audience of the closing ceremony included students from various ethnicities, the majority of those in attendance were African American, he said.

“It is hard to attract people outside the African American community to our events. In the future, I would like to see more non African American faces in the audience,” Burrell added.

Original Author: Anushka Mehrotra