This is a big year for anniversaries. The 15th Amendment was established 150 years ago in 1870 allowing black men to exercise the right to vote. The 19th Amendment was enacted 100 years ago in 1920, extending that same right to women. While Black History Month allows us to commemorate these important points in history, it is also an opportunity to look around and take stock of the history that continues to be made every day.
This Black History Month, our Black Cultural Center (BCC) is celebrating its first anniversary, having had its “soft” opening in February 2019, and a grand opening in August 2019. We took this opportunity to learn how its first year has impacted BCC staff and how the center’s existence has shaped countless journeys on campus.
One of the core characteristics of Black History Month is education. Meligha Garfield (he/him), director of the BCC, didn’t always know the honorary month even existed.
“When I was in elementary school, I remember asking my parents, ‘Why is there nobody like me in the history books or doing great things in science,’” said Garfield. This prompted his parents to prioritize sharing the stories of black inventors, scientists, entrepreneurs, lawyers, philosophers, poets and more. For him, family played a key role in opening his eyes to the inspirations of the past.
JaTara Smith (she/her), coordinator for the BCC and the African American Doctoral Scholars Initiative, recalls receiving similar encouragement from her family.
“I cannot remember a time that I did not know about Black History Month,” said Smith. “My family has always shown me the importance of acknowledging our history and Black History Month is an opportunity for the world to celebrate our blackness just as much as I am able to on a daily basis.”
Garfield believes Black History Month is a time to spread the message that blackness is multifaceted.
“We can be anything—despite what is often promoted in the news, on TV, movies and social media or in society,” said Garfield.
As the first center of its kind at the U, the BCC’s mission is to make it easier for black students to connect with black faculty and staff for mentorship, academic engagement, leadership development and to nurture a shared cultural identity.
“Here, there are no stereotypes to avoid or feel I’m being constructed as and I have a community for the first time,” said Thandi Msiska (she/her), a U student.
Throughout the rest of Black History Month, Smith encourages the entire campus community to utilize this moment in celebration of how far we have come as a country. But she and Garfield also implore us to learn more about black history and the work still needed.
“Read up on current and past issues and accomplishments black people have had in this country,” said Garfield. “We have made major and small contributions to every facet of America, so you are bound to find something interesting.”
Audio recordings from the BCC soft opening in February 2019.
Steven Bell, professor and mentor for the African American Doctoral Scholars Program
Alexis Baker, Black Student Union
Barbara Kufiadan, Black Student Union
Rev. France Davis, civil rights activist, religious leader and University of Utah alum