Since 1976, February has been nationally recognized as Black History Month in the United States, and is even honored internationally. At East Carolina University, students and staff recognize the importance of the month and reflect on the reasoning behind it in their own ways.
Vice Chancellor Virginia Hardy sat down for an in depth interview with The East Carolinian to reflect on Black History Month and how all students and staff can appreciate it.
Hardy mentioned that she is a former middle school teacher, and would always take time in February to focus on not just the main figures of Black History Month, such as Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and Malcom X, but she said would also speak to her classes on accomplishments and struggles of the black population.
“Privilege is always a touchy conversation because people get defensive. But there is unearned privilege that exists gender-wise and racially. White privilege is also a real concept. How can you use your privilege to help someone else who may not have it? How do you try to equalize the playing field for everybody?,” Hardy said.
Hardy mentioned the importance of these conversations throughout the entire year, not just February. Although they may be uncomfortable for both parties, Hardy said they are rewarding and educational.
“One of the things that I wish we did more of today is to have real conversations about race. Millennials and gen x do it better. Not only by doing it in February, but throughout the 365 days of the year,” Hardy said.
ECU’s Ledonia Wright Cultural Center also focuses on “providing specialized diversity and social justice experiences so all students can become confident, culturally aware, global citizens,” according to its website.
Assistant Director at the Ledonia Wright Cultural Center, Mariza James, mentioned how important it is to learn about African-American history and their massive contributions to America. She said it is important to recognize their sacrifices toward America and help support their path to social equality still to this day.
“Although there is still work to be done, it is important for people to learn about the battles African Americans have fought throughout history and how they have helped pave the way for many,” James said.
While massive strides have been made towards true equality in the United States, many citizens believe there is a long way to go. Shaun Simon, the associate director at the Ledonia Wright Cultural Center, said many issues still face the African-American community.
Simon said it is up to the entire community to tackle issues making up systematic oppression, not just the African-American community.
“Unfair housing practices, failing schools and the school-to-prison pipeline, which continues to feed the prison industrial complex where African-Americans make up 32% of the population while only being 13% of the American population,” Simon said.
This month, LWCC will hold multiple events to celebrate and bring awareness to Black History Month. On Feb. 7, they held Black HIV and AIDS Awareness day, to bright light to the health struggles the African-American community face.
Additionally, Simon said we do not need to connect the start of black history with slavery, but should strive to honor African Americans as a major piece of Americas greatness.
“We need to recognize that black history did not begin with slavery and does not end with slavery. African Americans are a part of America’s inventors, educators and writers, which is part of the tapestry of America’s greatness. As a community, we should recognize that,” Simon said.
More information about upcoming events at Ledonia Wright Cultural Center that will honor Black History Month can be found on their website.