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Rice kicks off Black History Month

Courtesy Jeff Fitlow

By Belinda Zhu     2/13/24 11:09pm

Rice is celebrating Black History Month with a variety of events. This year’s national theme for Black History Month, an annual celebration in February dedicated to recognizing African Americans’ achievements and contributions in U.S. history, is “African Americans and the Arts.” Events at Rice include a lecture series, hangouts and a first-ever kickoff event. 

Avery Hartwell, chair of the BHM committee and associate director of diversity, equity and inclusion for student engagement, said Black history has been rewritten in a way that doesn’t show the many contributions African Americans have made to the U.S. 

“Black history was created so we have the time to acknowledge the contributions, the struggles, the resilience and perseverance of African Americans here in America,” Hartwell said. “It is very important to celebrate [at Rice] because if we don’t know where we come from, we tend to repeat the history. It is very important to remind ourselves as African Americans of the rich history and resilience portrayed by ancestors.”

Jazara Nelson, a BHM planning committee member and the president of the Rice Black Women’s Association, said planning events beyond lectures was a priority. 

“While helping plan the BHM events, the most important thing to me was ensuring the month was fun and enjoyable for everyone, specifically Black students,” Nelson, a Wiess College senior, wrote in an email to the Thresher. “In the past, most of the BHM events have been very educational and lecture-based. This is great and all, but I think being at Rice and taking rigorous classes, it’s nice to get a reprieve. Beyond this, being Black comes with a lot of burdens, so it’s nice for there to be a balance between the heavy and the light things.”

The kickoff event, titled “Called to Create: African Americans and the Arts,” featured singers, dancers, poetry readings and remarks from Rice President Reggie DesRoches. 

Hartwell was surprised that there hadn’t been a grand kickoff to BHM before. 

“You want everyone to know, ‘POW,’ we are here,” Hartwell said. “I realized a lot of people don’t know which month BHM and that’s okay, but I want to make sure that there is a loud sound when it comes.”

“You walk into the student center or on campus; you feel the presence,” Hartwell added. “You see the green, red, yellow. You see the Black power. You see the fists. You feel a different energy on campus, like, ‘Woah, what’s going on today?’ Then you realize it’s BHM, and all individuals who identify as Black feel a sense of pride that is infectious throughout the campus.”

Jones College freshman Daijah Wilson said the showcase was a great way to reconnect with the African culture her ancestors never got to experience in its entirety. 

“Being Black at Rice is a unique experience, but it means a lot to be reaffirmed by the faculty to know they took such care in making sure Black History Month started off the right way,” Wilson said. “Having the support of our university president was really special. I loved the African cultural drum music and the emphasis on fostering community throughout the programming.”

In addition to the kickoff event, Wilson also enjoyed the Thursday hangout. 

“The soul food, Stuff’d Chicken, was super delicious and reminded me of the same food my family makes back home,” Wilson said. “The whole ‘cookout’ experience of enjoying good food with your family and friends while you crack jokes and play cards is such a universally Black experience — I was just happy to be able to share that at Rice.” 

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