Departments across campus have events planned throughout February to recognize and celebrate Black History Month at the University of Utah. The theme for 2022, picked by planning committee members, will be "Authentically U."
"We want folks, not only Black folks but everyone on campus, to recognize that we should be authentically ourselves," said Meligha Garfield, director of the Black Cultural Center at the U. "What does it mean to be genuine in everything that you do? Whether it be mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially — how do you come to present as your most authentic self?"
This Black History Month also marks the three-year anniversary of the U's Black Cultural Center, which will be celebrated at the Black Faculty and Staff Awards on Feb. 26, from 6-8:30 p.m.
Events this year will be a mixture of in-person, hybrid and online.
Morgan Aguilar: Hey, everyone! Thanks so much for joining us and checking out this video. I’m Morgan Aguilar, communication specialist at the University of Utah’s Marketing and Communications Department. Today, I’m joined by Meligha Garfield. He’s the director of our Black Cultural Center and also the chair of the Black History Month planning committee, which is why we are here. February is Black History Month in our country and also is celebrated on our campus every year. So Meligha, let’s go ahead and just start there with the importance of Black History Month in our community and on our campus.
Meligha Garfield: Yes, Black History Month, I believe is very important, especially in a time like this, where there’s a challenge across the country and in our school systems on should we teach different narratives? And I wouldn’t even say different narratives, inclusive narratives of everyone that contributes to this country.
So I think right now, Black History Month is ever so more important because it pays homage to that forgotten history of Black folks in this country. Black folks have been here since before the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence, so really there’s a rich history of several hundreds of years of just things and contributions that have paved the way. Black History Month is a good way to kind of talk about that, share things that are going on, look at the past, but also what does the future look like for not only Black folks in this country, but for everyone essentially and in relation to Black folks. Yeah.
Morgan Aguilar: Awesome. Thank you. Yeah, and I want to, you know, just reiterate kind of what you touched on there is that Black History Month at the U is for everyone on our campus, right? We want to invite every single person to join in on these events and engage with our Black community and with everyone on campus helping plan Black History Month. What’s the theme this year? And talk a little bit about why the planning committee came up with it.
Meligha Garfield: Yes. So the theme this year is “Authentically U.”
With being “Authentically U,” we have to really understand what being authentic means. And with the definition being “undisputed and genuine,” really what does that mean to be undisputed? What does that mean to be genuine in everything that you do? Rather it be mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually financially, like, how do you come present as your most authentic self?
And so, the message that we have for this Month, for Black History Month, in our theme of “Authentically U” is that during a time like this we want to folks, not only Black folks here on this campus, but everyone on this campus to recognize that we should be authentically ourselves. And then on top of that, be authentic with our history, be authentic with our future, be authentic with the present, be authentic in the ways in which we transcribe every aspect of everything that we do here — particularly with the Black Cultural Center, or various departments here on campus, our students, faculty, and staff.
So how do you become “authentically you?” I think the other part of that message really is also…I’m always talking about that “Black is not a monolith,” so being authentically you – as far as and what does it mean to be Black here in the state of Utah, and the country, here on campus – being authentically yourself, you can define Blackness as anything. And so when you can define Blacknesses as anything, you can be anything that you want to be.
And so, for myself, being me or being “authentically U” for me, what that means to me is that I can show up as a director of the Black Cultural Center, show up as a geek, a nerd that is into Marvel comics that collects collector’s items and comic books. For me, showing up as a movie aficionado that loves movies. Me authentically showing up, being able to sing, you know, whenever I’m happy, just to kind of be joyful. Authentically me; being able to show up no matter what clothes I’m in and still be respected as a person that works here at the institution and that I’ll be respected rather I’m in, you know, sweatpants or in suit pants, essentially. I’m still respected as an individual, and I belong here at the institution. And so it goes into that bigger message of “can I be authentically myself?”
After some time there were a couple of themes that we all voted on and that message particularly kind of fell into the laps of all of us on how we should all be authentically ourselves and particularly during Black History Month, how do you be authentically yourself and defining what is Blackness to you? Yeah.
Morgan Aguilar: Awesome. Thank you. It’s really helpful to know that it’s the “U,” not y-o-u. We get a lot of use out of that, and I love it. Okay, talk a little bit then about the events that are planned throughout the month – maybe just some highlights, what’s still being planned – given that theme in mind?
Meligha Garfield: Yes, good question. So we have a plethora of events planned for Black History Month and they’re spread out all across campus. We have partnerships in the English Department, from the College of Humanities to the College of Engineering there are some partnerships happening. We have EDI, our overall division, that’ll be planning some events. We have the Black Cultural Center, of course, that’ll be planning some events. We have our student organizations. It’s kind of a campus-wide initiative.
Some of some highlights that I’m excited for: always, of course, celebrating the birthday of our Black Cultural Center, which will be February 26th. And we’ll be celebrating our third year here as a center during our celebration, our Black Faculty and Staff Awards which is like our flagship month event and in which we will be highlighting Black faculty and staff throughout our campus who have made strides in our community, as well as here on campus and kind of giving them the limelight, letting them be, again, authentically themselves and really paying homage to that and getting to honor them.
Some other highlights, we have Reframing the Conversation that will have on the ninth really talking about why do we focus on like, anti-Black racism and on anti-Blackness and what is that perspective like, as far as globally, but also here on campus, as well as in our country.
We have Douglass Day which actually is a national holiday, as we would say. It’s actually on February 14th, Valentine’s Day, but we’ll be celebrating here on campus on February 15th, the day after. And what we’ll be doing is nationally transcribing documents from the Colored Conventions at which will be digitizing basically Black historic documents and putting them up nationally, and what does that look like as far as in transcribing that that, you know, actual history, Black history itself? And so community members, students alike, you’re all welcome to come to that as well.
So, some other highlights…I would say we have DJ Spooky will be coming with UtahPresents on the 17th. He’s a very prominent person, musician, but also professor, and he will be kind of, we say, reimagining “Birth of a Nation,” which was a film that came out in the 20s, when really, what does it mean, to kind of dissect that as far as Black representation in media and those early days as far as movies. And then from there, adding some music and stuff and really kind of reimagining “Birth of a Nation,” which he calls “Rebirth of a Nation.”
We have some things with the Tanner Humanities Center with Author Meets Reader with Reginald Dwayne Betts, which would be a prominent person coming to speak that was formally incarcerated. We have an open mic night. We have a movie night on portrayals of Black love. Another thing as a geek, I know we have on eighth, the School of Social Work does Wakanda Forever: Centering the Black Experiences on Screen, talking about really what does it look like with representation of Black folks in the movies per se.
And then our first event for the Month would be with the Business School actually with a partnership with them, and we’ll be doing Truth Behind the Chair: Critical Race Theory in Beauty which will look at hair and the CROWN Act that has been passed in several states across the country. You know what does it look like as far as in the hair protections and standards and equal protection of hair at our jobs and HR policies, and things of that nature, and really looking at it behind the scenes from hair beauticians and so that will be kind of an interesting twist not hearing from the typical professor or theologians – or not a theologian but, you know, professor or some researcher – but looking at actual hair beauticians and their perspectives of being behind the chair and doing folks’ hair and look like for them to take charge and going into the workspace. Yeah, packed month, a lot of stuff going on. Yeah. [laughs]
Morgan Aguilar: That’s so cool. Thank you so much, and thanks to everyone on the planning committee – yourself included – for your hard work getting all these events, unique events planned this year. I think that’ll be really fun.
Is there a mix of in-person and virtual options? I know that’s, you know, top of mind for a lot of folks right now.
Meligha Garfield: Yes…so there are three categories. Some of the events will be in-person where it’s small numbers, so kind of limited capacity. Then we’ll have a hybrid model with some events such as our Reframing the Conversation, and then there are fully virtual events such as our Friday Forums, as well as our Black Faculty and Staff Awards, which will be fully virtual this year as well. And so you have a mixture of things. We got in-person, low capacity, you got hybrid, and then you got fully virtual.
Morgan Aguilar: All right, awesome. Meligha, thank you so much for your time and your hard work on Black History Month planning at the U. I want to remind everyone out there that this calendar – you don’t remember everything Meligha said – it is online. So you can head to diversity.utah.edu/bhm, and that will take you directly to the calendar, the full month of events.
Also, be sure to follow the Black Cultural Center on social media @uofuBCC, and EDI will be promoting these events throughout the month at @uofuEDI.