Black History Series Celebrates Women
Oberlin has begun to celebrate Black History Month using speech, discussion, song and dance. The theme of this year’s commemoration is “Empowerment: The Essence of a Woman’s Work.”
Women’s empowerment was chosen in honor of the National Association of Colored Women’s 110th anniversary. The organization’s history will be the topic of the March 2 keynote address by State University of New York at Buffalo Professor Lillian Williams.
“The NACW is the oldest secular, national African-American organization,” said Africana Community Coordinator Courtney Patterson, who co-chairs the Black History Month committee alongside African American Studies Professor James Ochwa-Echel.
“[NACW] was founded in 1896 because black women were being forgotten or not even thought of in the civil rights or women’s suffrage movement,” said Patterson. “[The key message this year] is that every black woman has a contribution to make — no matter what class you are in, no matter what your sexuality is, no matter who your parents are.”
Events exploring the diverse experiences of African and African-American women brought this message to life.
The series opened with a lecture by Ohio State University Professor Stephanie Shaw titled, “Grandmothers, Granny Women and Old Aunts in Antebellum Slave Communities.” Patterson said that the speech shed light on important issues. Patterson said of the speech, “[It revealed] black women’s staying power.”
Hanifah Walidah’s one-woman show, “Black Folks’ Guide to Black Folks,” was another of the month’s highlights.
“She played a myriad of characters,” said Patterson. This myriad included a family of men and a lesbian mom who owned a daycare center. In addition to her performance, Hanifah Walidah shared her experience with Oberlin students through a poetry workshop.
As another part of the series, Faat Kine was screened and discussed. Faat Kine is by Senegalese filmmaker and writer Ousmane Sembènes, who is often called the father of African cinema. It tells the story of an unwed mother in modern Senegal who challenges the traditional roles of African women with her determined independence.
Additionally, a performance by the Soweto Gospel Choir was one of the most popular events of the month.
“The concert was one of the most beautiful performances I’ve ever seen,” said Kantara Souffrant, college sophomore and student volunteer.
Typically, Oberlin students have participated in Black History Month Celebrations in addition to being spectators. Patterson said student volunteers helped promote events and provide hospitality and will take part in this weekend’s black student leadership retreat.
An important example of this student dedication still to come is the revival of the Sisters of the Yam.
“Sisters of the Yam is a support group for black women on this campus and a counterpart to the Brotherhood,” said Souffrant.
The return of the organization is set to take place Tuesday at Third World House.
College junior Lee Hislop, president of the Brotherhood, said, “Though the Brotherhood consists of males of color, one of our goals is to create solidarity between males and females of color on campus.
“We’ve supported several events for Black History Month dedicated to women’s empowerment within the African Diaspora,” he added.
Oberlin’s celebration of Black History Month will conclude with a
formal closing ceremony on March 3. The event will include a performance by
Dance Diaspora and an awards ceremony to pay tribute to women who have made a
difference in the Oberlin community.