A reminder of the roots of the month-long holiday and a call to celebrate black history and culture year-round were key messages in the afternoon program.

On February 6, members of the Brooklyn College campus community gathered in the grand lobby of the Leonard & Claire Tow Center for the Performing Arts to kickoff Black History Month. Hosted by the Office of Diversity and Equity Programs, celebration highlights included a performance by students from the Brooklyn College Conservatory of Music, directed by Malcolm Merriweather, assistant professor and director of choruses; alumnus and violinist Devon Webster; and a poetry reading by Rosamond King, associate professor of English and director of the college’s Ethyl R. Wolfe Institute of the Humanities.

In her opening remarks President Michelle J. Anderson highlighted renowned alumni who themselves have contributed to history, including award-winning authors Gloria Naylor, Paule Marshall, and Paul Beatty; New York jurist Sterling Johnson and one of the newest district court judges in the United States, Jason Pulliam; New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams; journalist and CNN anchor Don Lemon, “and the person closest to our heart and the most outstanding alum that any institution could ever claim, Shirley Chisholm,” said Anderson.

Africana Studies Professor and Chair Prudence Cumberbatch invoked historian Carter G. Woodson, the creator, in 1926, of Negro History Week. “Woodson understood that having a sense of one’s history, or as he said, tradition, was critical to the future of the race. He said, ‘those who have no record of what their forbears have accomplished lose the inspiration that comes from the teaching of biography and history,’” said Cumberbatch. “While Black History Month is a time for celebration and recognition, it should also be a call for us to reflect on how little we know, and how that lack of knowledge is passed down through the generations. As we celebrate BHM, let us work to ensure that the mission of Woodson continues in a substantive way, not just in February, but all year long.”

Vice President Ron Jackson of the Division of Student Affairs spoke of being “unapologetically black,” and Undergraduate Student Government Vice President Jessica Johnson spoke of the feeling of community she has experienced. “In my very first semester here, I attended a number of black history programs; there was an entire calendar. I didn’t expect that,” said Johnson. “I [learned] I can be a black woman in this space and not have to worry about how I wear my hair, how I dress, how I speak. . . . Not everyone can say ‘I’m a black person, but I matter at my school.’”

Chief Diversity Officer Anthony Brown was last to speak, acknowledging members of the campus who had contributed to the program, including students whose art decorated the grand lobby, and President Anderson. “From day one, she has given me license to celebrate the great diversity that we have here at Brooklyn College, allowing me the privilege to be able to celebrate us,” said Brown and concluded, “Have a happy day!”

The Black History Month kickoff was part of a larger initiative called We Stand Against Hate, an initiative often featuring lectures, workshops, concerts, programs, and events that reflect our ongoing commitment to elevating dialogue, enhancing understanding and compassion, and celebrating the voices that make up our diverse campus community.