SRU’s Black History Month activities focus on understanding the past to help shape the future

Jaime Washington lecturing

 Jamie Washington, president and founder of the Washington Consulting Group, a multicultural organizational development firm based in Baltimore, will be one of the featured speakers during Slippery Rock University’s Black History Month celebration.

Feb. 1, 2017

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Marcus Garvey, a leader in the black nationalist movement, founder of the Negro World newspaper and organizer of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, liked to remind folks that, "A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots."

His philosophy of looking back in order to look forward is being fully embraced at Slippery Rock University as it celebrates February as Black History Month..

black history month poster

Black History Month, which has been nationally observed since 1976, recognizes "the central role of African Americans in U.S. history."

The University is approaching this time of commemoration and celebration under the theme "Before and Beyond: Strengthening our Foundation."

"We look at this theme primarily as a way to speak of our history in addition to the direction we take from here," said Corinne Gibson, director of the Office for Inclusive Excellence at SRU. "We want to understand the freedoms our forefathers fought for in the United States while building upon the foundation they laid for us."

The kickoff event for Black History Month is Feb. 2, at 7 p.m. in the Smith Student Center Ballroom and will feature keynote speaker Thomas Gaither, former SRU biology professor and a member of the "Friendship Nine", a communal civil rights movement composed of nine African American men.

"Gaither represents our 'Before', so-to-speak, giving us a full and basic history, but his presence will also bring us to realize that it was not so long ago in our nation's past that the rights of African Americans were far less than they are today," said Gibson.

Though an icon of the 1960s Civil Rights movement, Gaither simultaneously identifies with the "Beyond" aspect of the Black History Month theme.

"I am looking forward to returning to Slippery Rock, because there are questions we face as Americans in this particularly anxious period and I hope to shed light on what we are facing now by discussing our historical past," said Gaither.

In addition to Gaither, SRU intends to host guest speakers throughout the month. Edward Scott, one of the original student executive directors of the Black Action Society from 1979, will make a 5 p.m. appearance Feb. 17 in Room 100 of the Student Center.

To close the month's events, the Rev. Dr. Jamie Washington will provide a series of sessions Feb. 28 to discuss diversity and looking beyond.

Washington, founder of the Washington Consulting Group, which addresses diversity and inclusion, will meet with faculty, staff and students to offer diversity training and workshops.

"This time with Rev. Washington will be so important because of the conversations that will certainly result concerning diversity and going beyond diversity," said Gibson. "We hear that word so often, but what does it mean? How do we engage individually with each other and how do we really get to understand each other on a more personal level?"

Gibson sees everyday interactions and common interests as unifying factors when relating to diversity. To that end, Black History Month will also feature a plethora of celebratory, community-centered events such as open movie nights including films such as "Race" - a biographical sports drama depicting African American Olympian and track star Jesse Owens - and the "13th" - a documentary featuring the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which abolished slavery.

"Films like these really shine a light on the mass injustices surrounding African American people in the United States and how these have been created through systematic oppressions, oftentimes within politics," said Gibson.

"We still have a long way to go. I see this as what the 'Beyond' Black History Month stands for."

Odell Richardson, president of the Black Action Society at SRU and a senior public health major from Philadelphia, sees himself and fellow students as the beneficiaries of the diversity and inclusivity victories past Civil Rights leaders.

"This whole month is special because we are able to share our heritage with the whole campus," said Richardson. "It is rare that you actually get to take that outside of the classroom, but here we are, experiencing it together."

Richardson and BAS, responsible for planning an entire closing week of events, have included activities such as a poetry slam, soul food tasting and a movie night.

BAS is also sponsoring an Ebony Ball Feb. 23.

"We invite everyone to come, dress up, eat and have fun," said Richardson. "This event is special because it allows us to reflect on Black History Month and the great things we have accomplished."

To close out the week, a cultural immersion trip to New York City is planned for Feb. 24-26.

The trip may include sightseeing at the 9/11 Memorial, the Apollo Theatre and the African Burial Ground National Monument.

Students can register for the trip to NYC Feb. 2, 6 and 7 during common hour on the 1st floor of the Smith Student Center. Tickets are $70 upon accepted application.

"These events are just one of the many things I love about Black History Month and just about this University in general," said Richardson. "We get to share talents, have fun, travel and live life together. It's a great way for us to be included as one at SRU and to move beyond as we learn more about our heritage and discuss diversity."

For more information about Black History Month, visit the Campus Calendar at http://www.sru.edu/events.

Dates, places and times of Black History Month scheduled at this time include:

  • Black History Month Opening Ceremony: Thomas Gaither, civil rights activist, Smith Student Center Ballroom, 7 p.m., Feb. 2
  • SRU Dance Theatre Winter Concert: In Our Element, Butler County Community College, 2 and 6:30 p.m., Feb. 4, (Buses will be provided)
  • What's on Display: Part 1, SSC Theatre, 7:30 p.m., Feb. 8
  • Origin of Black History, 321 SSC, 12:30 p.m., Feb. 9
  • Film "13th": Discussion on 13th Amendment and Mass Incarceration, SSC Theater, 6 p.m., Feb. 9
  • What's on Display: Part 2, SSC Theater, 7:30 p.m., Feb. 15
  • Candid and Controversial Conversation, 319 SSC, 12:30 p.m., Feb. 16
  • "Before & Beyond": Conversation moderated by Edward Scott,320 SSC 320, 5 p.m., Feb. 17
  • SGA Movie of the week: "Race", SSC Theater, TBD, Feb. 17
  • Poetry Slam: Ballroom A, 6:30 p.m., Feb. 20
  • Soul Food Tuesday: Ballroom A, 6:30 p.m., Feb. 21
  • Black History Movie, Spotts Auditorium, 6:30 p.m., Feb. 22
  • Ebony Ball: Smith Student Center Ballroom, 7 p.m., Feb. 23
  • Cultural Immersion Trip to NYC: Feb . 24-26. Bus leaves at midnight.
  • Beyond Diversity: Rev. Dr. Jamie Washington, Smith Student Center Ballroom, 7 p.m., Feb. 28

MEDIA CONTACT: Maizee Zaccone | 724.738.2091 | mxz1016@sru.edu