Historical, current efforts overlooked

Promoting present, future leaders essential for unity, growth

By Robert Clinton, Sports Editor

The black experience in America is not easily discussed, as systematic oppression tends to make those who benefit from it, or suffer because of it, emotionally temperamental.

In an attempt to remedy this, in the U.S., we compartmentalize the accomplishments of blacks throughout the country’s history into one month, ensuring a justifiable ignorance for the other 11 calendar months of the year.

“Why only one month,” African- American Staff Association President John Wade said. “It’s always been an insult to me that we only celebrate the contributions of blacks in February. We hear the same MLK speech. There are so many great icons past and present that it takes more than a month to recognize them all.”

Originally founded as Negro History Week by historian Carter G. Woodson in 1926, its purpose was to teach black history in the public school system.

The February association was made in respect to the birthdays of social reformer and abolitionist Frederick Douglas and for President Abraham Lincoln.

Although more can be done to recognize these contributions, for now, the month serves as a platform to educate those willing to participate.

In the current era of racial politics either overtly or silently guiding the course of the presidential election season, involvement in a month of black acknowledgment is met with unpredictable responses.

Colleges in the district have different paths to participation. Los Medanos  College only has one event listed for Black History Month while Diablo Valley College boasts nine campus events that began Feb. 1.

Contra Costa College has no events listed on its website, but will host former Black Panther and professor Paul Alkebaum on Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m. in LA-100.  

The lecture is a continuation of the W. E. B. Du Bois lecture series by sociology department Chairperson Vern Cromartie and Jeremiah Sanderson of the Leadership Institute.

There is also a month-long exhibit in the Library and Learning Resource Center commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Black Panther Party and a display recognizing the decades of service by blacks in the military.

Some see the lack of an overt appreciation of Black History Month by campus organizations as a slight to its black students.

“The presentation seems kind of light,” African-American studies major Dean Hodges said. “All I’ve really seen is the Black Panther display. We don’t see enough of our accomplishments around campus.”

Others, like Dr. Cromartie, recognize the administrative attempt to host events that promote learning the current and historical relevance of the black experience year-round.

“It’s a both and not an either or,” he said. “We definitely need the month. I’ve been here 16 years and have always sponsored events and lectures under the W. E. B. Du Bois lecture series, but they don’t get much coverage.”

Cromartie said performances do not fully highlight the culture and events surrounding Black History Month.

“Even with The Advocate there is always a space to highlight Afro-centric forms of expression, like singing or dancing. Yes, that absolutely deserves to be highlighted. But substantive lectures rarely get the same exposure and that shouldn’t be,” he said.

America has always been more comfortable with the idea of having its blacks around for entertainment and less so with the idea of intellectual exchange, Cromartie said. 

The idea of DVC having a larger assortment of black history events bodes well for the district, supporting the idea that the least diverse segments of society be provided with multiple options of cultural enlightenment.

From slavery to Jim Crow, the prison industrial complex to predatory lending practices, the U.S. economy was built on the backs of black people.

Yet, despite the efforts of the most powerful nation in the history of civilization to subjugate, denigrate and relegate black accomplishments to the bowels of history, blacks continue to shape modern culture through academics, entertainment and technology.

A retrospective of the accomplishments of black women innovating in STEM fields would own the bulk of the month on its own.

From former U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairwoman and theoretical physicist Shirley Jackson to Valerie Thomas, whose breakthroughs in 3D technology were the basis for 3D imaging applications in medicine and in 3D televisions.

Opportunities for black women in science arose from the Fair Employment Practices Committee. Implemented during WWII, it prohibited race-based discrimination in the U.S. defense industry, spawning a generation of forgotten heroes of science and technology.

“Recognizing these accomplishments is not only for African-Americans, but we invite a cross section of people to learn and participate in events that should happen 366 days a year,” history professor Manu Ampim said.