MESA Hosts Closing Ceremony to Celebrate the End of Black History Month
Throughout February, the University of Michigan and the Office of Multiethnic Student Affairs (MESA) hosted events to celebrate Black History Month (BHM) and the 50th anniversary of the Trotter Multicultural Center and the MESA. The BHM planning committee chose the theme BLACK JOY! with events ranging from a celebratory panel discussion on singer Eileen Southern and Black American music to a ballroom dancing workshop.
MESA and the BHM Planning Committee hosted a closing ceremony for the month, which included dance ensemble performances, vocal music numbers and a keynote presentation by Robin Wilson, Associate Professor of Dance and Associate Professor in the Department African American Studies. LSA Senior Kori Tucker, a member of the BHM Planning Committee, began the ceremony by welcoming the guests and explaining why the planning committee had chosen “BLACK JOY!” as the theme for this year’s Black History Month.
“Throughout this month, we’ve made it our mission to celebrate each other,” Tucker said. “We realized that black people had a lot of difficulties, so we didn’t want to focus on that. As the planning committee considered what the theme for this year’s Black History Month should be, we decided that this particular campus was overdue for a celebration of our joy, so we created BLACK JOY!.
Business junior Omar Elrashid, another member of the committee, talked about the priorities for celebrating “BLACK JOY!”
“This month, we made it a priority to focus on the successes and accomplishments of black people of all backgrounds,” Elrashid said. “We wanted to emphasize that despite our struggles, we are leaders, scientists, doctors, innovators, artists and so much more. We wanted to emphasize that we black people are continually beating the odds in a world that, in theory, is not made for us. We wanted to show that black joy is proud of who we are, despite our struggles.
Dillion Cathro, Program Manager for the School of Social Work, gave land recognition as well as recognition to people of African descent who have worked on the land on which the University sits.
“We also want to thank the people of African descent who have been instrumental in the cultivation, maintenance and industrialization of much of the land we currently inhabit,” Cathro said. “The countless contributions they have made in fields, factories, classrooms, boardrooms and across the country have helped pave the way for us to be here today. We affirm and honor their deeds and swear to continue to uplift their members. We are their legacy.
Business junior Taylor Smith then introduced the ceremony’s first performer, Rackham student Byron Brooks, better known by his stage name MoSoul. The performance was titled “Being Black in America”.
“For the past few years, all I’ve heard is America screaming about making it great again,” Brooks said. “And to that notion, I asked the question, my brothers and sisters: when was our country truly and ethically great? Was this when my people were beaten, enslaved and raped? Being Black in America. Was it when racist white men filled with hate burned, crossed and lynched black and brown Americans, while wearing a cross around their necks and a white sheet over their faces? To be black in America.
After Byron’s performance, the BHM planning committee asked the UM community for their own personal definitions of Black Joy throughout the semester. LSA sophomore Maia Jackson shared a compilation of definitions that students shared in response.
Jackson said students define Black Joy as “navigating the world without fear of ridicule, fear of judgment”, “being able to live freely” and “not trying to prove one way or another that I am good enough, but know that just being me, being authentically me as a black woman.
Wilson, the BHM’s closing ceremony keynote speaker, was the last to speak at the event. In her speech, Wilson described the intersection of dance and African American culture and shared her own definition of black joy.
“BLACK JOY!” is creativity,” Wilson said. “We take the guts, the weeds, the awful and we make a whole new kitchen out of it. We took scraps of fabric and put them together to create these beautiful quilts. … Well, if we’ve mastered the art of taking what no one wants and turning it into brilliance, if we’ve learned to deal with adversity and oppression in the past, and we’re still here . If we can have rage and pain, and keep going.
MESA Administrative Assistant Neika White reminded the audience that even though the official Black History Month ceremony is coming to an end, the celebration of BLACK JOY! continue to.
“We thank you all very much for joining us for this closing ceremony. And we want to make sure that we indicate (that) this could be the end of the big Black History Month celebration on a University of Michigan campus. However, this is not the end of celebrating BLACK JOY! and our black history.
Daily newspaper reporter Rachel Mintz can be reached at [email protected].