The Oberlin Review
<< Front page News February 8, 2008

Black History Celebration Begins

The familiar line of students waiting to get into the Lord/Saunders dining hall on Wednesday night included many dressed for a special occasion — the opening dinner of Oberlin’s 2008 Black History Celebration, titled “A Beautiful Struggle.”

Many Obies were ready to start celebrating in the spirit of Black History Month: “It’s an act of solidarity, I think, just coming out here and kind of showing that you’re aware of the history,” said College first-year Steve Menendez.

“We’re here to support it,” agreed College first-year Joseph Chang.

For Conservatory first-year Chabrelle Williams, the event was a new experience: “My high school didn’t have a celebration. You know, it’s a high school, and we can’t have a celebration for every ethnicity.” Williams looked forward to an almost overwhelming list of events, including baritone John Harper’s senior recital on Saturday, Feb. 9 at 8:30 p.m. in Kulas Recital Hall.

The BHC has a foundation over 80 years old, dating back to historian and journalist Carter G. Woodson’s 1926 suggestion to celebrate black history in the second week of February, between the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Since 1976, the entire month has been designated for the celebration.

Courtney Patterson, faculty in residence at Afrikan Heritage House and co-chair of the celebration, hoped that Oberlin’s events would encourage even more thought about black history: “We want you to celebrate all year long.”

Some students, such as College junior Yolanda Walker, are already taking advantage of the events that take place throughout the year at venues such as Afrikan Heritage House. Walker makes it a point to attend functions at the House: “I come to the meals; I come to the talks.” She said that there was much more to a meal at the house than its superb food: “They usually have a very interesting program. It’s kind of my way of keeping in touch with the African American community.”

The Oberlin community also offers Walker a special education in an unfamiliar culture: “I’m South African, so most of what I’ve gotten to know about African-American history stems from informal discussions at Lord/Saunders or various classes.”

Patterson said that her hopes for student involvement in the varied schedule of events were high: “Students are always receptive, whether we know it or not. They attend events, they ask questions and they always give feedback.”

Conservatory first-year Jacquie Hanson shared her sentiment, hoping that the celebration would “bring a lot of different people together.”

Patterson, speaking on behalf of committee members who have been planning BHC events since the fall, said, “We want to be visionary in approach.” To this end, students are welcome to attend many dynamic, and free, events throughout the month. Among these is a performance by the Welfare Poets, a collective of artists and educators whose activism and musical work delivers information to the oppressed.  The Welfare Poets will appear in the Lord Lounge of Afrikan Heritage House at 8:00 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 15.

“I like to think we’re in the business of building bridges” between black communities across the world, as well as between students here at Oberlin, Patterson said.

Patterson and celebration co-chair Ramaesh Bhagirat, Africana Community Coordinator at the Multicultural Resource Center, presented the full calendar of events before the recitation of the nightly house prayer at Wednesday’s dinner.

Artist in Residence Yasmin Hernandez, who will unveil a mural at the Edmonia Lewis Center on Tuesday, Feb. 12 at 7:00 p.m., was also in attendance at the dinner.

Patterson showed particular enthusiasm for Convocation speaker Suzan-Lori Parks. Parks, who won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for her 2001 play, Topdog/Underdog, will speak in Finney Chapel on Wednesday, Feb. 13 at 8 p.m.

For more information on the events of the Black History Celebration, including lectures, film screenings, an open mic, musical performances, a book release and a Multicultural Resource Center social, visit the Oberlin events calendar at


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