Black History Month keynote speaker talks identity

By Emma WestRasmus

Mary Moore Easter, poet and former professor of Dance and Performing Arts at Carleton College, delivered the keynote address for Black History Month Tuesday night to a crowd of nearly 50 students, staff and administrators. In her speech titled “How Big is Your Black,” Moore Easter explored the evolution of her understanding of blackness and engaged with the audience about moments when their own personal senses of blackness shifted. A poet, dancer and actor, Moore Easter infused her keynote with excerpts of her own poetry and light-hearted moments of song and dance. Moore Easter traced the expansion of her understanding of blackness and her place within it through her journey from segregated schools of Virginia to a Massachusetts boarding school, and eventually to her time studying in Paris while a student at Sarah Lawrence College. Moore Easter noted that the evolution and transformation of her understanding of blackness happened through small moments, such as her experience having an afro hairstyle at Carleton, and visits to Jamaica, Mali and Senegal that broadened her sense of how blackness is lived, experienced and perceived. Much of the keynote address was aimed at conversing with those in attendance about their own experiences of specific moments when they noticed their conceptions of blackness shifting. Several students shared their personal experiences, such as the shift of moving from Minnesota to a predominantly black high school in New York. Another student cited a field trip to a Black History museum that despite identifying as black and believing to be knowledgeable about black history, in reality knew less than she wished about that history. One student asked Moore Easter how she negotiates her multiple identities–poet, mother, college professor and woman–and if those other parts of her take away from her blackness. Though Moore Easter said she does ask herself how to be a black artist without being limited to only certain parts of herself and certain themes within her art, she ultimately believed that a multiplicity of identity does not have a fracturing effect on her. “There is no division in me,” Moore Easter said. “There may be in how people see me, but I’m whole,” Black History Month Co-Chair Ayda Alemayehu ’14 said she thought the keynote was a success, and praised both the student turnout and the engagement of the audience. Last year the BHM committee were forced to make changes to their Black History Month schedule of events when they received substantially less funding than typical for February. Alemayehu said the BHM Committee did not face the same funding issues this year, and lauded the “phenomenal” slate of events that the committee has planned for the month. “This year we presented more complete proposals for incredible events,” Alemayehu said. “We identified the theme earlier, started planning our events earlier, and offered a detailed proposal.” refresh –>