Panel, Exhibitions, Dinners Highlight Black History Month

This February, students, faculty, and staff have collaborated on events ranging from keynote speakers to art festivals, all with the common goal of celebrating Amherst’s Black community.

With the arrival of February, the campus — students, faculty, and staff alike — has come together to celebrate Black History Month. The events range from keynote speakers to art festivals, but all share the common goal of celebrating Black history and experience, at Amherst and beyond.

Following a community dinner hosted by the Multicultural Resource Center (MRC) on Tuesday, Feb. 7, the MRC will host two more major events this February. These events were facilitated by the MRC’s Black History Month Planning Committee and members of the MRC staff — both of which include students.

The first event hosted by the MRC will be an alumni panel on the 2015 Amherst Uprising. The panel will be held on Feb. 16 at 6:30 p.m. in the Powerhouse and will feature alumni from the classes of ’15 to ’18 to discuss the significance of the Uprising on and beyond campus. Both the Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (ODEI) and the Cultural Heritage Committee collaborated with the MRC to organize the panel.

MRC Program Organizer Victoria Thomas ’25 said she was especially looking forward to the Amherst Uprising retrospective.

“[The] Amherst Uprising is something that is so significant to the activist culture and history on this campus, but because most of the students now were not there, a lot of people don’t know the details about it,” she said. “I’m hoping that it can really spark a shift in Amherst’s current culture surrounding student advocacy and activism.”

The second MRC-hosted event will be a keynote speaker for the Martin Luther King Jr. symposium, Nekima Levy Armstrong. The MRC describes Nekima as an “award-winning civil rights attorney, activist, and racial justice advocate,” and planned the event in collaboration with the ODEI. The event will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 21, at 6:30 p.m. in the Cole Assembly Room.

Armstrong will speak about her work in racial justice — particularly her work with the Wayfinder Foundation, which works to provide support to activist women of color. She will also touch on her experiences as the founder of the Racial Justice Network, an organization that leads protests and supports communities of color in the Twin Cities.

Students at Amherst were crucial to the organization of these events, said Lupita Mendez, Director of the MRC’s Diversity and Student Leadership. “The MRC student staff helped quite a bit with these programs — the idea for the Amherst Uprising Panel actually came from one of our current student staff members,” she noted.

Another group of students planning and scheduling activities this February is the Black Students Union (BSU). According to Ernest Collins ’23, the junior chair of the BSU, they are “partnering with Val dining hall to have a dinner for the Black Community on February 26 in Lewis-Sebring.”

“We are also [planning] a Trivia Night and/or a Karaoke Night with Student Activities,” he said. The details of when and where this event will be are forthcoming.

The MRC and BSU aren’t the only organizations coordinating Black History Month programming. Notably, the student-led, Sixth Annual Black Art Matters Festival will take place over the first week of March. The festival was created by Zoe Akoto ’21, with the goal of celebrating the artistic creations of Black students. Partnerships with the MRC, BSU, and African & Caribbean Student Union (ACSU) have kept the festival going for six consecutive years.

Student-submitted visual artwork for the festival will be displayed in The Mead’s public gallery this year between Mar. 7 and Jun. 25. Student submissions from both this year and last year will be displayed, as The Mead’s galleries were closed during last spring’s festival. There will also be a performing art showcase on March 5 at 8 p.m. in the Powerhouse.

The Black Studies Department is also an essential part of Black History Month on campus. Olufemi O. Vaughan, professor in Black studies and chair of the Black studies department outlined the department’s goals for this month. “We try to encourage our majors and minors to organize events. We co-sponsor events and support them with financial resources,” he said.

“So February, for us, is really a time to come together to engage our students,” he added. “We see Black history month as [providing] critical momentum to actively engage a range of issues about the Black experience throughout the semester.”

Vaughan also emphasized that the department supports student events year-round, not just in February. This aligns with the department’s commitment to cultivating a Black community at Amherst outside, as well as inside, the classroom. “We're very intentional in building and sustaining a culture of the Black studies community on campus,” he said. “As a matter of fact, we obsess over it.”

Overall, Amherst is geared up to make the most of this year’s Black History Month with a wide variety of events and initiatives.

Mendez underscored that February is a time for a celebration of Amherst’s vibrant Black community and that this celebration involves everyone on campus. When asked, Mendez expressed the most important goal behind events this February: “To engage non-Black folks in learning and action to support Black individuals and communities.”