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OP-ED: Black is joy, community, culture and love


From Feb. 1 to Feb. 28, African Americans across the nation celebrate the impact Black culture has had on this country. They pay tribute to the ones who came before them and recognize the countless contributions that have been made by African Americans and their ancestors. This month, the hub for Black students on campus, African American Student Services, is centering the notion that Blackness is not a monolithic experience through the themes of Black joy, community, culture and love.

Black History Month was established in the 1970s by Carter G. Woodson. Woodson was devoted to highlighting the contributions of Black Americans in the United States. In 1926, Woodson established Negro History Week, held the second week of February within the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. This would later be extended to the full month of February.

In our moment, Black History Month has extended beyond learning about Black contributions in American history but Black contributions to world history by understanding the complexities of importance in the African Diaspora. In addition to gaining knowledge about history, Black History Month serves the purpose of creating space that centers Black stories in the present moment, not just experiences of the past.

Black students on the campus of the University of New Mexico only make up about two percent of the population, which is why during this month the idea of community and culture is more than important: it is crucial. We think of it as a time where we are not only seen and heard by faculty members and students on campus, but also considered.

During this month, the organizations that are integral parts of African American Student Services help to cultivate events that bring everyone together and educate the campus community on Black Culture. Organizations like the Black Student Union, True Colors, National Society of Black Engineers, Powerful Movement of Educated Sistas and Brothers Leading and Cultivating Knowledge are dynamic Black student organizations that are home to some of UNM’s most prominent student leaders.

Throughout the month, the concept of Blackness and what it looks like for individuals with different lived experiences is indulged through various modes. Whether it be social, educational or service-based events, the importance of cultivating a safe space for Black students is emphasized and empowered.

Throughout the month of February, Black students on campus participate in conversations on how to enact change and action in a community that has faced countless adversities. We look at the negative and the positive, while also trying to write stories of our own. In African American Student Services, we also like to highlight black joy and students that go beyond to be a part of not only their community, but the entire community of UNM. Black students and groups who are achieving milestones at UNM are consistently recognized in AASS.

Examples as such would be student leaders Kaelyn Moon and Imani Knox, two elected Associated Students at UNM senators who received the second- and third-highest number of votes in the fall 2022 senate election. Or Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, a prestigious Black sorority, being ranked number one of all UNM Greeks for their GPA. When Black students enter different spaces, they find no reluctance in taking on positions of leadership while using that space to advocate for their peers and community.

When considering the importance of Black History Month, it is also equally essential that this sentiment of recognition and appreciation must extend beyond Feb. 28. Understand that the practice of celebrating Black students and Black stories everyday beyond the shortest month of the year is of necessity. Tokenizing the month of February is an implicit weapon against Black students, and not realizing that can be of great detriment. Black students do not want nor need your due diligence or monthly subscription of allyship. While it may be just a month for you, it is a livelihood that is finally being centered for others.

Instead, be steadfast and consistent in speaking with and learning the stories of Black students at UNM. The expected call of duty is that nonblack professors, faculty and students go above and beyond the celebration of this month to continue to cultivate space for Black Students here on campus and in your daily lives. Without violating the safe spaces of Black students at UNM, engage in conversation, learn and do better.

Imani Knox is a freshman at the University of New Mexico. They are currently a senator for the Associated Students at UNM

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Kaelyn Moon is a sophomore at the University of New Mexico. They are currently a senator for the Associated Students at UNM

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