Black History Month at Mac goes virtual

February marks Black History Month in the United States. Each year, Macalester students, faculty and staff plan a series of events to commemorate and celebrate the month. Amid a pandemic and a polar vortex, organizers are still pulling together programming for the Black community at Macalester. 

This month generally serves as a chance for Macalester’s Black community to come together for events, usually marked by a mix of casual get-togethers, speakers and an arts and talent showcase. This year, event organizers with the Black Liberation Affairs Committee (BLAC) and the Department of Multicultural Life (DML) have been leading efforts to put together remote programming. 

Victor Wright ’23, a member of BLAC’s Black History Month committee, said the need for everything to be remote poses a challenge. Organizers are trying to strike a balance between offering a variety of programs and recognizing that many students are exhausted by Zoom calls. 

“It sucks trying to coordinate things online,” Wright said. “People are on Zoom about four or five hours a day for classes. They’re not trying to hop on Zoom on a Saturday or Friday night, but that’s the only time we have, so it’s a huge roadblock.” 

So far, students and the DML have hosted events including a talk on “Black joy as archival resistance” with poet Sagirah Shahid, a poetry night with Danez Smith and “Black vs. Black,” an event examining relationships between Black Americans, Africans, Afro Latinos and Afro-Caribbeans. 

Student members of BLAC have looked for ways beyond Zoom lectures and panels to engage the community. BLAC’s Black History Month committee is keeping up the org’s Instagram page, where they’ve compiled video clips from community members, links to a Black history library and event updates.

Despite the difficulties of planning remotely, students are still fostering the same sense of community, learning and joy at the core of Black History Month as they did in years before the pandemic. Wright said that last year’s programming offered a valuable space for connecting. He’s heard that this year’s first-years are feeling the same.

“One thing I’ve heard a lot from the freshmen this year is that Black History Month — the events that we have had and the social media posts that we’ve been creating — has allowed them to actually see that the Black community does exist at Macalester,” Wright said. “Right now a lot of the freshmen struggle with actually meeting people who share a similar racial, historical background with them.” 

BLAC chose to organize this year’s events around the theme “my Black is,” highlighting the diversity of Black experiences. This has included involving faculty and staff in events and social media posts. 

Dean of Multicultural Life Marjorie Trueblood said she appreciates Black History Month’s attention not only to contemporary issues, but also its eye for the past. 

“I think it’s still important for us to reflect on the past and acknowledge what has been before,” Trueblood said. “Some people say, ‘You don’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been.’” 

Black History Month began in the early 1900s when Carter G. Woodson, a well-known Black historian, chose February to honor the births of two major historical figures born during the month, Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Black History Month was eventually made an official holiday during the 1970s by then-U.S. President Jimmy Carter. 

With history in mind, BLAC also hosted a virtual get-together with the Doty Gang, a group of Black alumni who graduated in the late 1960s and early ’70s. That event was a space for students and alumni to trade stories and get an intergenerational perspective of the Black experience at Macalester. 

Vice President of BLAC Gabby Whitehurst ’23 appreciated the chance to meet the alumni and hear them talk about their activism at Macalester during debates over the Equal Education Opportunities (EEO) program. 

“There’s a very robust and radical history of Black consciousness and action on the campus that I think very often goes unrecognized,” Whitehurst said. “I think that this has, in part, been intentional, but I think it’s really important to have a month dedicated to exploring Black history, and particularly connecting intergenerational conversations with Black people who have been at Mac.” 

Students in BLAC will continue updating social media and engaging the community throughout the rest of the month. Organizing Black History Month is only one component of BLAC’s role, so they’re also looking forward to the work planned for the future. 

“Moving forward, we plan to address the immediate needs of the Black student population on campus,” Wright said. “When things go back to being in-person… BLAC plans on working towards addressing the needs of the Black population on campus, prioritizing our demand for space.” 

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