This year, the University of New Mexico’s African American Student Services (AASS or ‘the Fro’) launched Black History Month on Feb. 1 with the raising of the Pan-African flag at Scholes Hall, a symbol of “Black liberation” according to AASS. The event as well as the raising of the ‘Black History Month’ banner by UNM Health Sciences Center were streamed virtually on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.
Other virtual events that were either streamed virtually or crafted on social media since then included: “Popular Hair Moments in Black Music History with Natelege Whaley” on Feb. 2, “CROWN Act Town Hall” on Feb. 4 and “National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day” on Feb. 7.
The pandemic created the necessity for wholly virtual events, but the team at the Fro readily accepted the challenge.
“It was very difficult and easy at the same time for our office because we’re a very creative group … we like to go above and beyond so even if it meant shifting our hours from the traditional 8-5 to doing 10-6 or even after six to accommodate students — we did that,” Dannelle Kirven, a student success specialist at the Fro, said
Future programming for February covers a wide variety of topics that students can engage with. Upcoming events include: “Verzuz Afro Staff Edition: Patricia vs. J” on Feb. 12, “RAW Tuba Talk ft. Dr. Richard White” on Feb. 18 and “The Bigger Picture: Hip Hop and the BLM Movement ft. Dr. Lakeyta Bonnette-Bailey” on Feb. 25.
“There’s a purpose to all our programming for this month, and it allows you to critically think about different things and different areas that you didn’t really think about before and put two and two together,” Patricia Lott, a senior student success specialist, said.
A societal shift, resulting from an increased awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement and protests for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain and countless others whose lives were lost to police violence, has changed the tone of Black History Month this year.
“I think we really pushed this Black History Month to center on Black joy and happiness instead of all of the oppression that our community has had to overcome and face through the past several hundred years,” Kirven said, in response to the increased spotlight on the Black community at UNM.
“J” Gourdin, another senior student success specialist, echoed Kirven’s sentiments.
“I think that it’s beautiful to see so many people coming to race and coming into a critique of themselves and how they treat other people … it’s also exhausting for the rest of us,” Gourdin said.
Gourdin said they don’t want people to stop “doing the work,” but they want people to understand the ways that the Fro has already been working to solve the “expressions of oppression,” such as housing and food insecurity.
Lott reflected on a recent Albuquerque training centered around unpacking racism and said individuals need, “...to look back at their own institutions to see what ways they can assist in undoing things like the biases and racism within their organization.”
Brandi Stone, the director of AASS, wants students to engage with AASS long after Black History Month.
“I hope that students will know that UNM is an open environment and the AASS is a culture center where Black students can appreciate their culture and learn more, but other students can also come in and learn about Black culture,” Stone said.
When asked which event they were looking forward to the most this month, there was a general consensus that all of the events are worthy of students’ time. However, the “Verzuz” between Gourdin and Lott, who are creating battling playlists, is a match-up that promises to be enthralling.
As a parting thought, the staff at the Fro were asked if there were any Black historical figures they think more people should be aware of.
“I just love shouting out Bayard Rustin who was an adviser to MLK, and also an out queer man,” Gourdin said.
Stone cited James Weldon Johnson, whose poem “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” eventually “...became a hymn that was very spiritual...and was then later dubbed the Black National Anthem.”
With regard to taking the lessons learned this month and carrying them throughout the year Gourdin said, “Besides Black History Month, every day is a good day for a non-Black person to be nice to a Black person.”
Shelby Kleinhans is a freelance photographer and beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BirdsNotReal99