Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”- Martin Luther King, “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”
This was just one of the many powerful quotes read at the Black History Month Read-In held on Feb. 11 sponsored by the Marshall Center. Associate Dean and Director, Raquel Ramos, said that this event allowed members of the community to come together, to share and be inspired by works of those who have struggled with oppression.
The group of twenty people took turns reading passages from “Letter to Birmingham Jail,” selected by Associate Professor of English, African American and American Studies, Shawn Christian. Ramos said, “Some of the famous quotes are from this reading but to hear different folks read it with their accents and inflections was really powerful (and something) that I didn’t expect.”
Khadim Niang ’15, who attended the read-in, said, “It is a way for us to remember the legacy of Martin Luther King and how relevant this letter is today in terms of the numerous social injustices … (such as) housing, income inequality and other aspects of American society that need fixing… It’s a work of an individual who happened to be black and celebrating his legacy.”
With regard to Black History Month, Niang said that it is “a time for all people in America regardless of race, to celebrate a month dedicated to the legacy of individuals who improved American society and have affected us. We are honoring them and remembering the pioneers and the amazing people who have done so much to improve the status of what it means to be black and also what it means to be a human being in America.”
Assi Coulibaly ’17 then read Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise” and Ashley Trebisacci, from the Global Education Center, read Audrey Lorde’s speech “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action.” Trebisacci said that this piece and the lines “your silences will not protect you” inspired her. She added that these events allowing people to speak up and add their input were important at a small liberal arts school such as Wheaton.
The read-in is just one of the many events happening on campus to celebrate Black History Month. President of The Black Student Association (BSA) Michael Ivory ’17 and junior advisor Jerry Joseph ’16 said that the club has been collaborating with other groups on campus to put on events for this month. They said that this created a bigger impact as the message got out to the rest of the campus.
Ivory said, “Our goal for this semester is to collaborate more with more groups and we’ve had a lot of luck with that. We also want to create a positive image of B.S.A and of black culture on this campus. I feel there is still a divide on the campus and so we are trying to bridge that divide with dialogue and events.”
This effort to team up with other groups on campus included collaborations with the Roosevelt Institute, which resulted in posters of famous black inventors, as well as general famous black people in history, hung up in Balfour. Another club collaboration involved BACCHUS and the screening of the film Dear White People. BSA also held an event called “Brother to Brother, Sister to Sister”, in which faculty members and fellow students of other cultural groups held a dialogue revolving around the topics of race, gender and sexuality.
Other big events to look out for this month from BSA include a collaborative discussion with the Distinguished Women of Color Collective and Anime Club on the lack of black superheroes in western media and how African Americans are portrayed in East Asia. The annual Black and Gold Dance that will be held on Feb. 27 “is a celebration and a good way to end Black History month, by allowing the Wheaton campus to come together and just have fun,” according to Ivory.
Ivory added that celebrating and creating awareness about black history is significant, “especially in a campus like Wheaton where there isn’t a significant amount of African Americans on campus and there are a lot of people that come from places where they might not have been exposed to African American culture. It’s a way of enlightening people about black culture and showing it in a positive light.”