Celebrating Our Heritage: Black History Month 2022
Dear Kent State University Students, Faculty and Staff,
The celebration of February as Black History Month is one of Kent State’s great societal triumphs. As we begin the month, I think it’s important to reflect on the critical role that Kent State played in founding this annual celebration of contributions and achievements by Black Americans.
Birthplace of Black History Month
Black History Month traces its roots to 1926, when Carter G. Woodson, Ph.D., founder of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, established Negro History Week, celebrated during the second week of February.
By 1969, Kent State’s Black United Students (BUS) organization, with support from campus educators, began to advocate that the entire month of February be commemorated as Black History Month. Those who played an integral role in the founding were students Carl Gregory (Saiti Dihati) and Dwayne White (Brother Fargo/Ibrahim Al-khafiz), staff member Milton Wilson, Ph.D., and faculty member Edward Crosby, Ph.D. After a year of planning, the first observance of Black History Month in the nation took place here at Kent State in 1970.
It would be another six years before February received a formal national designation as Black History Month. In 1976, President Gerald Ford made the designation to coincide with our nation’s bicentennial celebration, urging Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” By then, Black History Month was a well-established commemoration here at Kent State.
Championing Racial Equality
Throughout its history, Kent State has been fortunate to have so many committed Black educators who have helped shepherd our students and guide our curriculums. This year, I am recalling several who have passed away recently, including Alene L. Barnes, retired professor in Pan-African Studies, and E. Timothy Moore, Associate Dean Emeritus in the College of Arts and Sciences and Professor Emeritus of Pan-African Studies, who, as a student at Kent State in the 1970s, also served as president of BUS.
I am particularly remembering Dr. Crosby, who established the first Black studies program at Kent State in 1969 to help create a more inclusive campus. The cross-cultural and interdisciplinary curriculum that he founded is now known as the Department of Africana Studies. Dr. Crosby passed away nearly one year ago, on Feb. 10, 2021. I find it bittersweet, yet somehow fitting, that he left us during last year’s Black History Month, as he was often referred to as “the father of Black History Month” for the key role he played in helping BUS organize that first commemoration in 1970.
Kent State’s history was forged by so many advocates and trailblazers like Dr. Crosby, Dr. Wilson, Dr. Barnes and Associate Dean Moore, who dedicated their careers to making Kent State a better place.
Our Important Work Continues
We are now the caretakers of their cause, and it is our duty to ensure that their important work continues. That is why in September 2020 I announced the creation of the Anti-Racism Task Force to examine all areas of university life, work proactively and collaboratively to identify racism, and create a plan of action to eradicate it from this institution.
This group has worked tirelessly, conducting all its work virtually due to the ongoing pandemic, holding Kent State under a bright light to look at how systemic racism and inequality may lurk within our system.
I am pleased to say the task force’s work has been a great success and that soon, we will be sharing a detailed report of its findings and beginning the journey to change our ways for the better as we implement the group’s recommendations.
I can think of no better way for us, as an institution, to mark Black History Month.
Join the Celebration
I encourage you to take part, either in person or virtually, in the many Black History Month events that will be happening throughout February. A great place to begin would be by watching our annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, which took place last week. If you couldn’t watch the livestream, I can tell you it was a dynamic program followed by a thought-provoking question-and-answer session, and I encourage everyone to view the program, which featured acclaimed filmmaker Dawn Porter as our keynote speaker.
Black History Month is a great source of pride for our university and an important part of our past. We all know that history is a look back on what was a prior generation’s present – what a people were doing, how they were living, the causes they supported – at a specific point in time. With the perspective of years, we can see how the actions of those who came before us shaped our future and created our legacy.
I am proud to know that when the historians look back on our place in the history of Kent State, they will see a people who worked hard to champion the causes of diversity, equity and inclusion, who created a university community where acceptance and access prevailed and who did their best to shape a better tomorrow.