Cameron Pollack/Sun File Photo

Members of Black Students United march to promote black solidarity against racism.

February 21, 2023

Celebrating Struggle, Joy and Triumph: Campus Affinity Groups Honor Black History Month

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Throughout Black History Month, student groups are fostering community and intellectual development with events including a Love Island parody, cooking instruction, a professional retreat and a trip to Washington D.C.

Black History Month occurs annually to acknowledge Black history in the United States and to celebrate the accomplishments of Black Americans. All U.S. presidents have distinguished February as Black History Month since 1976.

“While we work towards a world where Black history is acknowledged and celebrated during all months, I see Black History Month as an opportunity to explore Black and African American struggle, joy and triumph,” said Obioha Chijioke ’24, co-president of Black Students United.

According to Chijioke, Black history is frequently censored in education, so it is important to memorialize those who have given their lives for Black advancement and those whose forced labor built the foundations of the U.S. Through Black History Month events, students can reconsider their misconceptions and ask questions surrounding Black culture and Black history.

Previously named Cornell’s Afro-American Society, the BSU is credited for occupying Willard Straight Hall in 1969 in reaction to several racially charged incidents at the University. Today, the BSU is an umbrella organization encompassing 29 cultural, mentorship, performance, professional and Greek organizations that uplift Black students.

For Black History Month event planning, the BSU established an overall theme of “Black 2 the Future” inspired by the concept of Afrofuturism — a movement envisioning a future where African-descended people and their cultures are valued. The BSU plans to facilitate events that foster unity and celebrate freedom while establishing safe places for constructive dialogue.

“In a time where Black history is under siege, ‘Black 2 the Future’ asserts that there must be space for Blackness to thrive in humanity’s collective future,” Chijioke said. “We’re also acknowledging how Blackness has already thrived in our past and pursuing Afrofuturism as a homage to the brilliant people [that came before us].”

According to Tofunmi Olabode ’24, co-president of the BSU and co-president of the Nigerian Students Association, the BSU emphasized collaboration among various affiliated groups throughout Black History Month event planning.

The NSA collaborated with Ghanaians at Cornell to host Love Island on the Hill, mimicking the popular dating reality show, Love Island. Olabode said that the event intended to celebrate diversity, which generally lacks within a show which emphasizes eurocentric beauty standards. 

“Being that Love Island contestants are typically White, one of our students said that it would be nice to appeal to a different kind of beauty standard with Black contestants,” Olabode said. “[We thought that hosting a Love Island parody] would be a nice, fun way for us to enjoy [Love Island] within our community because a lot of its viewers are Black [and] are often rooting for the one Black couple there.”

The Caribbean Students’ Association collaborated with the Haitian Students Association to host a cooking workshop, teaching students how to make Caribbean delicacies on Monday. 

Aliya Sweeney ’23, president of the CSA, said that they wanted to highlight fun aspects of Caribbean culture including their food and music.

“[We wanted to] make [Black students] feel at home, celebrate their culture, make them feel proud [and emphasize to them] what Black people have contributed to society,” Sweeney said. “But then [we] also [wanted] to educate students who may not know about [Caribbean culture]. Cornell is so diverse and there’s so many people who have probably never tried Haitian patties [for example].”

Les Femmes De Substance — which is focused on service, mentorship and professional development for women of color — attended their 16th Annual Women of Substance Retreat in Syracuse, NY from Friday, Feb. 3 to Sunday, Feb. 5.

According to Naana Owusu ’25, publicity chair of Les Femmes de Substance, the organization had the retreat planned for a while and thought it was extra powerful to hold it during Black History Month.

“We had a majorette workshop, which I think is special since majorette stems from Black women and Black people in general. There was a lot of Black joy during the event,” said Ami Jaiteh ’26, co-freshman representative and co-publicity chair for Les Femmes De Substance. “[We wanted to] make sure that all the Black women or women of color on campus that were there, felt comfortable and like they had people to look up to, lean on and support them, even after the retreat.”

The BSU is also hosting a trip to Washington, D.C. from Feb. 24 to Feb. 26. According to Chijioke, the D.C. trip was previously an annual event but got suspended due to the pandemic for a couple of years. This year, they will be reinstating the tradition.

“We’re going to explore lots of monuments, historical landmarks and museums in a place that immortalizes so much of United States history, and much of that is Black history,” Chijioke said.

Chijioke said that the goal of the Black History month event is to provide students with safe spaces. 

“Much of the work is trying to make students feel like they have safe spaces to be intellectually stimulated about things that matter to them [and] that students have a space to laugh or watch a movie or play a board game or [anything] that students might want to do but might not feel comfortable doing elsewhere,” said Chijioke. “That’s what it’s about – safety and community building.”