By MEGAN GRIGORIAN
The University of Mary Washington campus kicked off the celebration of Black History Month on Feb. 2 to large numbers of students and Fredericksburg community members.
The events chosen this year by a planning committee, which consists of students and staff, center around the nationally selected themee, From Slavery to Freedom: Africans in the Americas.
Committee Chair and Assistant Director of Multicultural Student Affairs Carol Ben-Davies, who began planning back in October, tried to vary the events to create informative, as well as interesting and enlightening experiences.
“I sat and thought about what I would want to see,” Ben-Davies said. “I wanted to add to the intellectual climate of campus through the lectures but also wanted to have social and fun events.”
Black History Month was founded by Dr. Carter G. Woodson in 1926. It is now organized by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. Proclaiming their mission “to promote, research, preserve, interpret and disseminate information about Black life, history and culture to the global community,” the ASALH is responsible for choosing the theme every year, as well forming workshops, sponsoring an annual convention and publishing Black History journals and newsletters.
So far at UMW, there has been a variety of activities including a Harambee (a celebration including music, dancing, and singing) as well as a Black History Month Dinner, a Keynote Speaker, film showings, multiple discussions and two lectures.
The Harambee marked the beginning of an ongoing project for UMW. With the help of Professor of Education Venitta McCall, students are helping to be part of the creation of a UMW quilt of diversity.
“Quilts are such an important part of African American history,” Ben-Davies said. “It’s something we can have for years to come.”
Still in the beginning process, help is still needed from students to add and eventually finish the project.
However, missing from the schedule of events this year is the Gospel Extravaganza. This performance has not been a part of UMW Black History Month since 2004. According to Ben-Davies, the event is completely student run and there were not enough participants this year, to the disappointment of some of the Fredericksburg community.
“I get phone calls from community members wanting to know if it’s going on,” Ben-Davies said. “People look forward to it.”
One lecture that did attract Fredericksburg community members was “Telling a Complete Story of American Slavery” on Monday night. The lecture, given by Gerald Foster, focused on the campaign for the United States National Slavery Museum and the modern day relevance that slavery still holds for all Americans.
The museum, which is projected to be built near the Rappahannock River, will include a comprehensive guide through the history of slavery, with over 100,000 square feet of exhibit space.
According to Foster, the scholar-in-residence at the United States National Slavery Museum, it will offer a study of truth and reflection into the history of slavery in America.
“When we really start to deal with it, we’re going to be a better country for it,” Foster said. “You cannot get over something if you don’t confront it and define what it is. I don’t think we’ve done that sufficiently.”
The museum has about 40 percent of the funding that they need to begin construction and are currently accepting private and corporate tax-deductible donations.
“This is not about Black history,” Foster said. “It’s about American history.”
Although most of the attendees were community members, Maura Johnson, sophomore and history major, was interested in the topic.
“I thought some of his points were valid,” Johnson said. “The museum is definitely going to be on my must-see list.”
In the upcoming weeks there will be more lectures (including a forum on Redefining the Term “Other” and Slave Housing in Virginia), a video showing of “The Young Lords,” a jazz concert and step competition, an HIV/AIDS Spiritual Gala and other events advertised around campus.
Ben-Davies is particularly excited about the Communiversity Day on Feb. 23. UMW students will spend the day with James Monroe High school students through workshops on multicultural awareness.
“Hopefully with this program we can start to establish a relationship with young people in the community to bridge the gap between university and community,” Ben-Davies said.
The month will close with a panel and discussion on Diversity in the Workplace on Feb. 28. Representatives from offices like GEICO and Enterprise will talk about the importance as well as the recruiting process for diversity in a professional setting.