Abigail Harrison, News Editor
Black History Month is celebrated every February to recognize the achievements, history and culture of the Black community.
With less than a week left in Black History Month, it is important to reflect on the contributions made by Black Americans and the racial injustices they faced for centuries.
Jacksonville State University’s International House held a Black History Month celebration last week to share Black culture with the Jacksonville community.
Several students used their talents to showcase what Black culture and history means to them. An audience gathered to watch the presentations, songs and poems come to life with powerful stories that demonstrate why this month is so important.
The first students to perform were Alexzandria Quintero and Shan Godfrey, both juniors at JSU. Quintero told the story of Fred Hampton, an African American activist and civil rights leader. While Quintero read Hampton’s biography, Godfrey painted a portrait of Hampton.
Hampton was a Chicago native who was a member of the NAACP and the Black Panther Party during the 1950’s-1960’s. He used his talents of public speaking and leadership to fight against the injustices Black people faced during the civil rights movement.
Hampton was passionate about the work the Black Panther Party was doing to fight for racial equality through legislation and political programs. While leading the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther, Hampton organized a number of community programs such as a free breakfast program and a free medical clinic.
As the Black Panthers continued their work to protect African American communities, they were monitored by the FBI, who saw them as a threat to international security. Hampton was assassinated by Chicago police officers in 1969 in a raid against the Black Panthers. Other members were injured and killed in the raid, and documents later revealed the raid was organized by the FBI.
After Quintero and Godfrey’s presentation, Favour Ezenwiwe and Jotham Vincent, also known by the stage name Bless, performed a song titled “The Light that Never Fails” by Andra Day. Ezenwiwe sang the song while Vincent played the flute.
Day is an R&B singer from California. Her song “The Light that Never Fails” is an encouraging and powerful testament about overcoming any obstacles one might face and never losing hope along the way.
Ezenwiwe sang the lyrics, “We’ve all had that moment when our shoulders sink, and we sit back and think we could just run, but we’re not born to chase the faded light. We’re not born to fall and lose the fight.”
The song was a powerful reminder of the fight for equality that the African American community has made for years and the fight for justice they continue to make today. However, just like the song promises, the community has not given up on the fight despite the many obstacles they face.
The last performer of the night was Zaniya Frazier, who read a poem she wrote about Black historical figure Ruby Bridges.
When Bridges was just six years old, she became the first African-American child to desegregate an all-white school in the South. In 1960, Bridges faced a crowd of angry white people yelling racial slurs and phrases at her as she walked up the school steps, hair bow on head and a bookbag in hand.
Only one teacher volunteered to work with Bridges. The child was not allowed to be around her white classmates in the classroom, cafetaria, bathrooms or playground. Her school life continued like this until the following year when other Black students were allowed to attend white schools.
As a kid, Bridges paved the way for African American children. She is still alive today and continues to be a civil rights activist. Frazier ended her poem about Bridges with a powerful quote that reflects what that six-year-old pupil had to endure in 1960.
“Racism is a grown-up disease, we should stop using our kids to spread it,” Frazier quoted from Bridges in her poem.
After the presentations, the International House served the audience a soul food meal of macaroni and cheese, fried fish and pound cake. Some of the attendees ate their food while also dancing to the hip hop and R&B music playing over the speakers.
The night of celebration ended at the International House, but celebrating Black history and culture does not have to stop when the event or month is over. Anyone can celebrate anywhere or anytime by researching the history of the civil right movement, reading stories of Black historical figures or supporting Black-owned businesses or charities.
Every person has a story of their heritage, and when asked about what Black heritage means to them, many attendees shared stories about the unity among the Black community.
To Ezenwiwe, Black heritage means origin.
“It’s the essence of who I am. As much as we can easily forget about skin color and race, the fact is it’s who we are. So, Black heritage to me is remembering and respecting the very foundation of our DNA and what makes us Black and what makes us Black people,” Ezenwiwe said.
To Quintero, it means joy.
“For me, it’s the joy that we can still have because, yes, the system is literally against us, but in spite of that, we’ve been able to have some good times. We have a community. There’s a sense of family with people you don’t even know,” Quintero said.
As seen at the International House celebration, members of the Black community have many different ways of celebrating through their talents, whether that is singing a song or sharing cultural food with others, but they all share an unbreakable bond connected by their Black identity.