Published February 4, 2021
February is Black History Month, and units across the university are celebrating with a variety of activities that highlight and bring heightened awareness and understanding to African American history and culture.
“Social progress and change in the United States is deeply connected to the efforts of Black Americans and their allies, demonstrated once again by this summer’s activism in response to the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others,” says Despina Stratigakos, vice provost for inclusive excellence. “Black History Month reminds us that our democracy would not be where it is today without these ongoing struggles for racial justice and equality — and of the debts we owe to those we honor and remember.”
Arguably the marquee event of the month is the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Address, delivered this year by Patrisse Cullors, co-creator of the viral Twitter hashtag and movement #BlackLivesMatter. Cullors will deliver the 45th annual address, which is part of UB’s Distinguished Speakers Series, on Feb. 10; register for the Zoom session online.
Other highlights include a Feb. 17 presentation, “Calling In, Not Calling Out,” by Smith College faculty member Loretta J. Ross, and a Feb. 18 talk, “Beyond the Life: Anti-Racism & Health Equity,” by political activist and bestselling author Cornel West.
Ross, associate professor in the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Smith, will speak from noon to 1 p.m. as part of the Office of Inclusive Excellence’s “Let’s Talk About Race” series. The talk is also sponsored by the Gender Institute.
In her talk challenging call-out culture, Ross will explore how call-out culture has become toxic and transformed conversations that could otherwise be learning opportunities into confrontations. The solution, she says, is to “call people in” by building a unified human rights movement that uses our differences as a platform for creating a positive future. Register online for the Zoom event.
West, Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy at Harvard, is the keynote speaker of the Department of Surgery’s inaugural Endowed Lectureship on Health Equity & Social Justice. In the talk, the first public event of the department’s newly launched anti-racism and health care equity initiative, West will discuss surgery’s role in fighting systemic inequality. Register for the 4 p.m. Zoom event online.
Other BHM events include a semester-long reading/discussion group on African American history led by Nicholas K. Githuku and Vanessa M. Holden, two of the Center for Diversity Innovation’s Distinguished Visiting Scholars; a talk by Holden on Freedom on the Move, an open access, crowdsourced database project aimed at transcribing and coding thousands of advertisements placed by enslavers and jailors for fugitives from American slavery, and Black History Month and Black Lives Matter reading guides from the University Libraries.
Much of UB’s Black History Month programming is student-focused, with both the College of Arts and Sciences and Student Life presenting numerous events during the month.
The Student Life programming, organized by the Intercultural and Diversity Center, offers a mix of discussions and social activities, both online and in person. The goal, says IDC program coordinator Allen C. Williams, is to raise awareness and visibility of the Black community. “The programs we host provide an opportunity to disrupt and challenge erasure, marginalization and violence,” Williams says. “Additionally, they provide an opportunity to celebrate achievements, bring people together and center joy.”
The social and educational programming, he says, is “designed for community-building and critical dialogue.”
Black History Month is among several heritage months during the year in which IDC commemorates and recognizes the communities it serves, Williams notes.
A list — although likely far from exhaustive — of events, programming and other resources can be found on the Office of Inclusive Excellence’s website.