Frederick Douglass

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In 1926, the first national Black History celebration was held. Carter G. Woodson, along with the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, proclaimed that the second week of February would be “Negro History Week,” as the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Fredrick Douglass fall during this time. Negro History Week was a great success, being received with open arms by African Americans and many non-Blacks alike.

By the time of Woodson’s death in 1950, Negro History Week had become an integral part of the African- American community.  With the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Awakening of the 1960s,  the contributions of blacks to the nation increased in recognition drastically.

In 1968, UR’s Black Students’ Union (BSU) was founded. BSU is one of the many social and cultural groups presenting and sponsoring numerous student activities that achieve a variety of goals including education, service, and outreach. In recognition of Black History Month, BSU has already organized the 10th annual step show, ‘Step Up or Step Aside,’ and plans to host a gospel concert in collaboration with the UR Christian Fellowship on Feb. 24 at 7:00 p.m.
Thirty years after Negro History Week became Black History Month, this time of remembrance is still revered and celebrated by African Americans nationwide.

Black History Month highlights influential leaders during the Civil Rights Movement as well as other lesser-known events throughout history. Leaders like Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr., to name a few, are commonly recognized during these celebrations.

UR has made strides in the promotion of the Black experience on campus. In 1984, President Dennis O’Brien appointed a 17-member Community Relations Committee consisting of representatives from the Black community, alumni, student groups, faculty, and administrators to consider implementing an African American Studies program as well as the recruitment of minority faculty, staff, and students.  This ultimately resulted in the creation of the Frederick Douglass Institute.

In 2012, UR opened its doors to the Douglass Leadership House (DLH). DLH was founded by a group of students led by Lecora Massamba ’11, Tsion Girum ’12, Sharese King ’12, and Melika Butcher ’12, with the help of Director of Graduate Recruitment at the Kearns Center Valeria Sinclair-Chapman and Academic Program Coordinator at the Office of Minority Student Affairs Sasha Eloi.
The mission of DLH is to celebrate and raise awareness of the many facets of the black experience including its culture, politics, history, and diasporic roots. For the first time in UR history, the DLH will present a physical expression of Frederick Douglass’ principles while connecting students,  alumni, and the Rochester community.

Mixed responses were elicited by students when questioned as to whether efforts were being made on campus to recognize Black History Month. Some students are content with the efforts already made by UR, but others think not enough is being done.
“I think that the school is doing the best that [it] can,” freshman O’Reggio Bennett said. “UR has provided a decent number of minority groups that can successfully come up with events and workshops for Black History Month themselves.”
Others, like Sophomore Shamara Saffore, feel differently.

“What I want to know is what happens in March?” she asked. “Will Black culture still be a hot topic on campus? Or will UR turn back to its old ways until another minority history month presents itself?”

According to Senior Adrian Elim, “every February offers a unique opportunity to dive a little deeper into the depths of what it means to actually be Black.”

“There is more to being Black than the statistics you’re presented in class, the stereotypes you see on TV, and even the representations of Black culture within the music industry,” he added. “We are individuals full of strength, courage, and determination that we invite everyone on campus to share. Our doors [at DLH] are always open, as long as we are not in class.”

In accordance with Black History Month, campus groups  like DLH encourage all students to partake in the celebration of the many strides and accomplishments, all hard-fought, made throughout history by the African-American community.

Richardson is a member of the class of 2015.

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