By FRCC (Westminster) Sociology Club members and FRCC Students: Tiana Haussler, Janessa Gourdin, Miranda Lester, Garrett Spellman, and Maddie Stallman
The incorporation of Black History Month originated with a call to bring awareness and celebrate Black culture in 1926 by way of Carter G. Woods on the “father of Black history.” Kent State University in 1970 officially observed Black History month due to the diligent work by students, along with faculty and staff.
Recognizing the importance of student voices, it seems appropriate to offer up a conversation with two FRCC Black women students who reflect on what this month represents to them.
Black history is far more than just Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman, and Rosa Parks, but often it can come across as the only Black people who matter—at least in U.S. curricula and public view. That sentiment is one shared by both Tiana and Janessa. Being Black women attending Front Range as non-traditional students, they explain how common it is for them to feel unseen on campus and in the Westminster area, and how that’s not much different during Black History Month.
To start off, Tiana shares concerns about who gets represented during Black History month, “You know Martin Luther King, and you learn about his speech, but you don’t really learn about all of his other struggles. Similar with Rosa Parks. You don’t learn that she was an activist, you just hear about the bus scenario. You don’t learn about, you know, anything prior to that. You have to do that research on your own. So I feel like that was missing the most for me, and I do kind of have this feeling that you get bits and pieces: you get those talking points, but you don’t get the rest, because it’s just taught very briefly during February. It’s not taught, you know, year round.”
Tiana brings up the need for a more complex understanding of Black history that goes beyond a specific monthly recognition. Simultaneously, there is a need to also shift the focus of whose voices get heard. Janessa highlights the centrality of men of color, “I feel like there is more recognition of men still during this time of the month. I feel like there are major women of color, especially Rosa Parks, or Harriet Tubman that we hear about, but I feel like it’s more men’s faces, which is, you know, men were considered more of a human being—moreso than women were, you know.” Both Tiana and Janessa bring forth the need and the internal struggle that exists in wanting “to be recognized as a woman of color during Black History Month.”
One of the most important goals within the education system is for Black people to have accurate and year-round representation in all aspects of life. Janessa describes a recent conversation with her son, “My son is seven, and in second grade, and he came home and started talking about Martin Luther King… the fact that it only is occurring during this month is really upsetting, because that is a part of who he is; a part of who we are 24/7. So I don’t understand why we don’t have more representation.” Tiana follows up with a story about her son, “my son is in high school, and he told me, there are 27 Black students at his school. there are 1000s of other students, but there are only 27 Black students. So it’s important for those 27 students to feel seen every day, instead of it just being that 28 days in the month that you’re acknowledged. It’s nice for those 28 days, but wouldn’t it feel really nice for them to be visible every day, to see people that look like them all the time?” Janessa follows up by sharing that she would have benefited from a more representative education, “I feel like as an adult, it took a lot of work within myself
to accept myself as being a black woman of color, being just a woman of color in general, because I mean, we’re the minority, especially in Northglenn and Westminster. I feel like having representation at a younger age creates the ability for others not to struggle as I did personally as an adult.”
Front Range has made some effort to represent Black people this month, but it is still not enough. For example, there are several posters depicting Black people who have made significant contributions to history. However, the majority of them are men. Tiana points out, “I saw Nelson Mandela, I saw Martin Luther King, but we’ve heard their stories before. can it be different, can there be other people that we put up there and highlight, because a lot of times we put those same people up over and over instead of showcasing new people.” Janessa elaborates, “It’s based on comfort. It is a comfort thing. People don’t want to hear what makes them uncomfortable. There are so many other things that happened in Black history, but we’re not taught about them at all. The only people that we know are the ones getting continuously recycled, because their story is comfortable enough to be able to be shared. Martin Luther King is thought of as representing peace. In reality, Martin Luther King was a man that did more than just that. He didn’t just sit there and say that you need to be peaceful in order to make change. That’s where his story is utilized to change and invalidate the feelings and emotions that it is to be a person of color in society.” Tiana follows up with a point about long-term representation for all, “what will happen in March when it’s Women’s History Month? Will we see women of color showcased then during Women’s History Month?”
Along with expanding representation within schools, Janessa and Tiana also share the need to provide a more nuanced and comprehensive view of Blacks in mainstream media because as Tiana states, “I feel like there’s the pull yourself up by the bootstraps idea. A lot of people use [white] people in Hollywood to further the idea of if they can do it, then we [Black people] can do it too.” Yet, “we’re not the same. And our struggles aren’t the same, and our path isn’t the same. So we shouldn’t be compared. Everybody has their own struggles and their own identities. It’s nice to see that more [Black] creators are getting exposure, but it’s not indicative of what everyone goes through.”
What Tiana and Janessa are highlighting is the complicated relationship between a serious need for representation from everywhere in society and the challenges that come from that representation being short-lived or inaccurate. They underline posters up on campus are a great first step, but we must expand and add more representation of Black folks including women, queer, people with disabilities, and more. Everyone deserves to have a voice at all times. We must come to the realization that much of the representation that exists is tokenistic and can easily fade away in time. Representation should always be there, as Tiana explains in relation to the media, “where was this in January? Where was this in December? It goes back to the idea of, we see it, but for how long will we see it after Black History Month is over and the media is no longer pursuing an accolade and can therefore take away the token?”
Representation of any specific group should not be reserved for what Tiana refers to as “call on holidays” it must take place for everyone every day so that all people know the full stories of others like them, not just what a dominant group can cram into a brief designated time slot. After all, when there’s only a month dedicated to Black history, which is very much U.S. history, it’s
as if the contributions of African Americans are of little importance. Without their stories being taught, it is impossible to know America’s full history. Changing that takes giving a voice to those who otherwise might not be given one. There are steps the FRCC community can take to make this happen. To start, that means teaching Black history throughout the year, having people of color available as professors, and providing a student union where students of color feel comfortable, heard, and validated with others who share similar experiences. This would help others avoid situations like one Janessa experiences, “I have felt as though my words did not hold weight to that of my male counterparts, especially white males, so I just ended up not saying anything for some of the class. Sometimes that’s frustrating, because we have voices to share.”
Individuals have the responsibility to educate themselves; to learn on their own rather than relying on members of marginalized groups to teach. To that end, here are some places you can go to find out more about Black History.
Black Educational Websites:
https://www.thehistorymakers.org/ https://naacp.org/ http://blackpast.org/ https://my.matterport.com/show/?m=X9ou6MvycZU&help=1 https://www.aapf.org/blacklight https://blacklivesmatter.com/ https://www.npr.org/series/1075788889/black-history-month https://artsandculture.google.com/project/black-history-and-culture https://nmaahc.si.edu/ https://www.historycolorado.org/black-history-heritage https://afrotriangledesigns.com/ (Adri Norris’ art)
Black History/Education tiktoks: