Feb. 1 marks the beginning of Black History Month. In years past, Albion College would have had multiple in-person events to celebrate the occasion. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, things are looking different this year.
Celebrating Black History Month During the Pandemic
Before the pandemic, Black History Month would have been celebrated with pop-up museums, comedians, speakers and food. The Albion Community at large also had the opportunity to participate in these on campus events, leading to a wider spread of education on Black history and culture. This stemmed from the college campus to the surrounding community.
Due to the fact that large in-person gatherings are prohibited, these types of events will not be available this year. The importance of celebrating Black History is apparent and staff and students are still working hard to celebrate this cultural month.
On the staff side, Chief Belonging Officer Keena Williams and Assistant Director for Global Diversity Clarence Stirgus are working hard to prepare events for students while also following safety protocols. The events they have planned are virtual and expand outside the Albion community.
“Because of COVID-19, we’ve had the opportunity to reach out to a number of our GLCA counterparts across Michigan, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Ohio,” said Stirgus.
The ability to reach out to a number of different organizations outside of Albion College has allowed for a larger base for discussion. Kalamazoo College is hosting a conference this month in honor of Black History. They have asked Albion College to send students and staff to come speak at the event. Albion College faculty and students have also been included on the Black Voices Matter calendar, a talent show specifically for Black talent.
Stirgus is also working with Baldwin and Black Student Alliance to continue Taste of Blackness, which is an event that hosts a series of meals from different Black cultures. This includes having a guest chef coming to campus to create authentic dishes for the Albion College community.
The planning doesn’t just stay with Williams and Stirgus in The Office of Campus Life. Students are getting involved as well, especially the Black Student Alliance (BSA). Khaiylah Johnson-Bustamante, a junior from Brooklyn, N.Y. and Vice President of BSA, revealed what their organization had in store for this month.
BSA is collaborating with Office of Campus Life to create a conference that has different speakers with “Black and Queer” and “Black Spirituality” being two of the topics. They have also taken to social media posting on the daily with different themes for each week of Black History Month. This past week, BSA posted pictures on their Instagram page with captions sharing the accomplishments of members of their executive board within and outside of Albion College. The executive board is also working to create fliers highlighting prominent figures in Black culture. Johnson-Bustamante also shared that BSA is trying to configure three smaller events to continue the celebration of Black History.
There have been many challenges to setting these events in place this year and not just due to the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the major challenges is the inability to use food as a bridge between cultures in the same way as it would have been used in the past.
“We’ve had to be really creative about how to still create the sense of ‘breaking bread’ together if we are not physically together,” said Williams.
BSA has also faced similar problems with the inability to share common space. The Welton House on campus has been a designated space for BSA to gather and host meetings. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, they have been unable to utilize the space to its full capacity. Johnson-Bustamante also notes that virtual events and conferences still feel like “school” due to the fact that many of Albion’s classes are online this year or hybrid.
“Without a certain attention to making sure [virtual events] are fun and enjoyable, it’s still going to feel like a class,” said Johnson-Bustamante.
Despite these challenges, the celebration of Black History is as important as it would be any year. There have been some good things to come out of virtual events. Previously, Albion College would not have highlighted events occurring on other campuses or given students as great of access to them as before.
The Office of Campus Life and BSA have also become more innovative in their ideas of celebrating Black History Month. Williams hopes this continues in future years, as the ability to network and connect with other institutions has allowed for a more holistic celebration.
“It is not one person’s, one office’s responsibility to celebrate our awareness months and our cultural months,” said Williams, “It has to be a collective effort from our entire campus.”
This collective effort doesn’t just include the way students and members of the community educate themselves but also how they educate others outside of their community.
“We want to make sure that folks are educated in a way that not only benefits them, but also benefits the community around them,” said Stirgus.
Black History Month is not only important for the way it honors Black America’s past. These events acknowledge the presence of Black individuals on college campuses and gives them a space to be seen and heard.
“It’s important that we celebrate [Black History Month] because we need to acknowledge people’s presence and remind them that they are welcomed, wanted and that they add things to this campus,” Johnson-Bustamante said.