In recognition and celebration of Black history, culture and achievements, the Jeh Vincent Johnson African-American/Black, Latino, Asian and Native American (ALANA) Center holds an annual series of events and presentations during Black History Month to educate students and faculty on how to support Black communities.
This year, in addition to the kick-off event this past Wednesday, Feb. 2, which featured several musical performances, speeches and other presentations by students, faculty and alumni, the ALANA Center is inviting author Jessica B. Harris on Feb. 15 and 16 for a virtual screening, discussion and Q&A on her Netflix series “High on the Hog.” Later this month, local artist Jean-Marc Superville Sovak will come to the Loeb on Feb. 24 to discuss Black art, and two workshops on anti-racism will be held on Feb. 28 and March 1.
Director of the ALANA Center Nicole Beveridge said she hopes students and faculty attend multiple presentations. In a written correspondence, she stated, “I hope that as campus partners participate in all the events this month, that they will reflect on the lived and shared experiences of all African/Black Americans, high and low, famous and obscure, and how these experiences have shaped, challenged and ultimately strengthened America.”
The kick-off event began with the theme “Black Is…” and participants were encouraged to fill in the phrase with symbolized meaning, according to Beveridge. She said, “Black is not a monolith. Black is HerStory. Black is freedom. Black is equity. Black is antiracism. Black is faithful. We continue to reflect on our past, reaffirm our present, and rejoice in our future.”
ALANA Center Programming Intern Isabella Aleong ’22 said the kick-off event in the Villard Room was an amazing experience for all who attended. She said, “Upon leaving the event, we were left with the challenge of doing much more than just attending the events this month. We were encouraged to find ways to continue to support our Black community.”
Another Programming Intern at the ALANA Center, Carl Webster ’25, agreed, hoping the events later this month go as smoothly as the kick off. “There was beautiful Black music, poetry and food, with the focus on liberating Black people and celebrating our achievements,” Webster recalled.
Dean of College Carlos Alamo-Pastrana also enjoyed the first event. He said, “I was struck by how this was an important moment that showed how we’ve been able to take some of the lessons from the pandemic and use them to create some more dynamic programming for the future.”
While planning these events, organizers at the ALANA Center had to take into consideration COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines. Webster said, “We had to consider capacity at the events to stick to COVID-19 protocols.” He added, “This, along with providing grab-n-go meals since dining was initially restricted at events, has now changed, so we look forward to seeing meals provided for in-event consumption.”
According to Beveridge, the kick-off event was held in a hybrid setting to account for COVID-19 guidelines, and all events have been restricted to the campus. She said, “They are not open to the wider community due to the COVID-19 protocols.”
The fluctuating protocols have proved difficult to create concrete plans, according to Aleong. She said, “COVID-19 restrictions have challenged us in terms of both planning and conducting the events, especially with the constant possibility of these restrictions changing. It’s also been a challenge to find the best ways of keeping people safe while still maintaining a community with one another. It is my hope that we all take an unvarnished look at the past so we can create a better future.”
Alamo-Pastrana praised the use of both in-person and virtual opportunities this month. While looking forward to all the future events, he said, “I am very excited about the Jessica B. Harris event. I am such a huge fan of ‘High on the Hog’ and I look forward to the lecture and the special lunch menu combination event that has been planned.”
Alamo-Pastrana said that one of the most important lessons of Black History Month is the recognition that we should be celebrating Black history and life on a regular basis. “We should especially strive to more fully understand the ways in which African Americans and the larger Black global diaspora have shaped the history of this country, the globe, and have radically transformed all of our lives,” he said, adding, “But we should approach this history fully aware that it is also defined by trauma, pain and structural failures. Black history means naming these injustices and reckoning with them in ways that are honest, transparent and transformative.”