"For Africa to me... is more than a glamorous fact. It is a historical truth. No man can know where he is going unless he knows exactly where he has been and exactly how he arrived at his present place."
This quote comes from the very distinguished African American poet-author-activist Maya Angelou and is a useful point of departure for this post for a variety of reasons. Namely in honor of Black History Month, a twenty-eight-day period set aside to acknowledge, appreciate and remember the incredible legacy, continued strides and struggles of the African American community. What Ms. Angelou is able to capture in so few words is that there is significant value in understanding our past to make sense of our present. To be able to demonstrate the continuities history reveals to us and our own contemporary experience is both necessary and desired; hence, it must also be celebrated and that is one of the major themes of this month.
Black cultural heritage in America should not be seen as separate from "American" history; rather, it should be viewed in tandem as a significant contributing force to the many traditions, customs and values we have present day. Personally, one of the many things Black History Month gives to me is conscious space to be more reflective of my own story and how it fits into a longer history of storytelling, survival and agency. I celebrate the patterns that bind my community, the experiences that broke us down and unified us, and the hope that we carry for another day.
All of that being said, I want to make it a point to make this Oberlin community aware of some of the fantastic programming happening here to celebrate Black History Month in all of its glory. Wonderfully, there is an entire website dedicated to keeping you in the loop with all that is happening, and because we are friends like that, I have highlighted some of the major ones at the very end of this post :) Please make it out to at least some of these events; history is being made and you do not want to miss out.
Another huge event to briefly mention is a March 4th commemoration project entitled "Oberlin History Lessons." Many of you may be aware that last spring semester was extremely difficult due to a myriad of instances, interactions and speech surrounding race and sexual orientation, specifically, in hateful, "biased" and downright prejudiced ways. *DISCLAIMER: I am not going to get into the specifics of the event(s), the politics around it or any of that because that is not my intention for this current piece.*
However, what this project seeks to do, alongside a commemoration convocation with Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey, is provide an outlet for the community (both campus and larger Oberlin) to engage with their experiences and reflect in whatever creative medium best suits you. Please see the below communication from organizers of the project to find out more on how to get involved.
Hopefully, a takeaway of all that you have read is that in constructing your own narrative, you must engage with the circumstances and people who surround it. To make it worthwhile, explore the interconnectedness of your experience(s) and their future implications. Happy Black History Month everyone!!
We invite you to participate in a project called Oberlin History Lessons to honor and commemorate March 4th. We hope this project will both promote conscientious self-reflection and narrative-sharing, and actively foster a beloved community.
Natasha Trethewey, Poet Laureate of the United States, is coming to give the March 4th convocation. A biracial artist, Trethewey was raised in Mississippi in the period immediately following the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. One of her seminal poems includes a work titled "History Lesson". In it, Trethewey examines a photo of herself in the post-Civil Rights South on a beach and writes about the photo itself as well as the broader social context in which she exists at that moment and time. We are interested in collecting personal stories from the Oberlin community to display as an installation at her convocation on March 4.
We would love to receive a story-reflection from you! You carry a particular lived experience unlike any other on the Oberlin campus, and we invite you to share a piece of that with the Oberlin community on March 4th. We will be collecting stories throughout the next two weeks.
Thanks so much,
Sarah Cheshire, Lillian White, and Cuyler Otsuka
*In collaboration with the Office of the President, The Office of the Dean of Students, the MRC, and the Bonner Center for Service and Learning.*"