By Anna Williams

Black History Month (BHM) is a staple observance in the United States, especially among educational institutions. This celebration originated in Ohio in 1969 at Kent State University, when Black educators and the Black United Students proposed the observance. 

Back then, Black history was celebrated through the use of study materials, such as pictures and lessons for teachers to enlighten students. This was established by Carter G. Woodson, an iconic figure in the origin of celebrating Black History. According to the African American Resource Center, the Black community initially established BHM as an educational observance and fought for the “teaching of the history of American Blacks in the nation’s public school system.” 

Despite these antiquity efforts, it seems as though the expansion of Black history has been limited to being facilitated solely by diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) groups, which is problematic considering that the observance is supposed to be a unifying concept.

Is U of L undercelebrating BHM?

The problem of DEI organizations solely celebrating BHM is especially apparent on the campus of the University of Louisville (U of L). The university’s Cultural Center seems to be the only prominent organization that is promoting different observance events for students to participate in. For example, the Center hosted a “Black History Month Kickoff” on Feb. 1 with the mission to “unify some of the Black and Brown registered student organizations (RSOs) on campus.”

The University of Louisville Cultural Center Photo Courtesy // University of Louisville’s Cultural Center 

This notion, although empowering for the Black community, is troubling; it limits BHM to solely being a celebration by Black and Brown people instead of being both a celebration by the Black community and an educational observance for those who aren’t of color.

The educational aspect of BHM, as explained earlier, was the primary reason for the establishment of the celebratory observance in the first place, and that notion needs to be regarded today.

How is U of L celebrating BHM correctly?

Despite this inadequate reality on U of L’s campus, the U of L Theatre Department has displayed immense efforts as a non-DEI organization to facilitate Black History Month through its content of interest. This group went against the pattern of non-DEI organizations not promoting BHM and looking towards DEI organizations to facilitate events for students to participate in by putting on a production by a Black playwright. 

A snapshot of Gem of the Ocean Photo Courtesy // University of Louisville’s Department of Theatre

Starting Feb. 23, August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean will be performed by the department to celebrate Black voices in theater, such as Wilson’s. Known as the “theater’s poet of Black America,” Wilson was a strategically profound choice of a playwright by the department because his work best informs those who aren’t Black about the Black experience in America.

The celebration should be campus-wide, not restrictive. 

The phenomenal work by U of L’s Theatre Department as a non-DEI organization should inspire other non-DEI organizations to celebrate BHM and educate Black history alongside DEI organizations, such as the Cultural Center. DEI organizations can no longer be the only groups to promote the history and celebration of Black Americans.

As the new president of the university, Kim Schatzel should make an initiative to improve the facilitation of BHM by all organizations on campus to collectively educate and celebrate Black history. This would require her to approach this initiative less corporately, as she has been approaching other matters of the university in a more intimate, personal way. 

Empathy and compassion are the only igniting factors that can lead to genuine change, especially with aspects such as race and history. If U of L keeps that notion in mind, we will continue cultivating a beautifully inclusive university.

Photo Courtesy // U of L News