SSU Celebrates Black History Month

The month of February is nationally recognized and celebrated as Black History Month

Jerilyn Garrett, Staff Reporter

Since 1976, each president has designated February to celebrating the achievements of African Americans and recognizing their role in U.S. history. Locally, Shawnee State University acknowledged and celebrated Black History Month by hosting a variety of events for students and staff during the past few weeks. While attending these events, students were able to have eye-opening and meaningful experiences.

The Events

In the past, SSU Student Life clubs and organizations often held large, in-person events for Black History Month including diversity symposiums, activity nights, and many more. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all events this year were to be transformed and held virtually instead. Marlita Cadogan, Coordinator of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, explains that “Diversity and Inclusion is all about bringing people together to experience different perspectives, cultures, people…so switching to a virtual format was a bit difficult, but the message of unity and togetherness is still being spread.”

Adjusting to a new format, a variety of events were held at SSU for Black History Month including (in chronological order): 

  • Black History Trivia Kahoot Night hosted by BADdies (Building Awareness of Diversity)
  • Let’s Get Into It with D&I: What is Black Lives Matter hosted by the Office of Inclusion and Diversity
  • Harriet Movie Night hosted by SPB (Student Programming Board)
  • Black Minds: A Mental Health Check-In for Minority Students hosted by the Office of Inclusion and Diversity
  • Celebration of African American Chefs hosted by the Bear’s Den
  • Black History Trivia Night hosted by SPB
  • Raise Your Voice hosted by the WGEC (Women’s and Gender Equity Center) and the Office of Inclusion and Diversity
  • Painting Our History hosted by AHANA (African, Hispanic, Asian, Native American Student Club)

Additional recognitions of Black History Month and African American students and staff were also conducted. Posters were displayed around campus and the Lights, Camera, Excellence program allowed students to be nominated and highlighted for their accomplishments and excellence at Shawnee.

The flyer for the Let’s Get Into It event.

Having hosted two of the events, Cadogan details both and shares the collaborated efforts that made them possible. Let’s Get Into It with D&I worked with the Portsmouth Police Department to create a discussion of the differences between Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter, looking at the Black Lives Matter movement from the context of a black police officer. Chief Debbie Brewer, the first female police chief of PPD, and Officer Chris Dixon, the only officer of color in the department, both helped lead this discussion, providing unique perspectives. 

SSU freshman and SGA Liaison for AHANA Anthony J. McAllister said that the “greatest takeaway from the event for me was that both BLM protestors and police officers value life.” In reflecting on the discussion with regards to Black History Month, McAllister believes we should “hold accountable each individual, regardless of the victim’s skin color or the suspect’s uniform.”

Black Minds: A Mental Health Check-In for Minority Students was held “not only to create a safe space for black students to vent their frustrations and share concerns and stressors,” Cadogan said, “but to also assist in breaking the stigma of mental health in the black community.” Making a comfortable environment for students to speak, SSU Counseling Services partnered on this event to provide peer counselors. Black Minds appeared to be a student favorite of the month. Taiahnna Dawkins, SSU senior and AHANA President, said that because mental health issues are not commonly addressed in the black community, the event was a great opportunity for minorities to finally speak about their problems without feeling embarrassed. “Being an African American woman, it meant a lot to hear some of the things that people have went through and to know I’m not the only one,” said AHANA Vice President Jamya Hatton.

Photo from the SSU App by Jennifer Brocato. Shown is the Bear’s Den’s recreation of Fraser’s dish.

Hosting one of the few in-person events following COVID-19 guidelines, the Bear’s Den’s Celebration of African American Chefs provided a unique way of celebrating Black History Month. Featuring a variety of dishes created by well-known African American chefs, the Bear’s Den was able to help students appreciate the achievements of these chefs and a culture which may be different than their own. Dishes included Tregaye Fraser’s fish taco salad, JJ Johnson’s braised short rib tacos, Joe Randall’s baked macaroni and cheese, and several others.

The Importance

Recalling the Harriet Movie Night, McAllister said that he experienced a moment of reaffirmation that doing what is right can be hard but it is what is needed for change. Analyzing what he learned from the Black History Month events, “black history is a long story of endurance, perseverance, strength, and courage,” he said. “Being an African American, I recognize the hard battles my ancestors fought – not physical fights, but the harder, more important mental battles.” McAllister plans to honor his ancestors by helping to build a better and more accepting future.

Black History Month is an important time for all to learn and enlighten themselves about the rich history and accomplishments of African Americans in the U.S. The various events hosted by organizations at SSU are just one way to start this process and to celebrate.

“Black History Month to me, as a minority, is a time to reflect on the atrocities suffered by my ancestors, share gratitude and celebrate the journey of how far we have come, and empower and uplift future generations to come to continue our fight for true justice and equality,” said Cadogan. “For non-minorities, I think Black History Month should be a time to acknowledge, highlight and celebrate the amazingness that is black culture and the contributions black people gave to make this country what it is.” 

Cadogan would like readers/students to know that if they ever have any ideas they would like to see executed or want to discuss any topics they have seen in the media, she is welcoming to those conversations and ideas. She can be reached at [email protected].