This February, along with getting their fill of Valentine's Day treats, Emerson students got a heaping helping of culture. African American Heritage Month, aligning with Emerson's public push to increase diversity on campus, was celebrated with a series of events on campus.
"African American Heritage Month is about celebrating a culture that isn't always taught about in public schools, in grades K-12," Tikesha Morgan, director of Multicultural Student Affairs said. "For many people this is their first way of learning about African American culture and heritage."
For Aja Moore, president of Emerson's Black Organization with Natural Interests, a group dedicated to the political and cultural advancement of students of African-American descent, this month has been not only about education, but also having fun. Moore said her goal was to spread a positive and an uplifting message about black culture. To find a phrase that encapsulated her intended message Moore turned to music, drawing this year's slogan, "Young, Gifted and Black" from the music of 1970's soul artist Donny Hathaway.
"It has a really positive and uplifting message. It encompasses the message we are trying to promote on campus." Moore said.
"Speak Up Speak Out!" the event that kicked off African American Heritage Month, featured poet Aja Monet.
Monet, 21, a poet from Brooklyn, is the youngest Poetry Grand Slam Champion of New York's Nuyorican Poets Cafeacute;. The event had a small number of people in attendance but students said that intimacy among attendees at the coffee house made the reading more moving. "Her poetry was really deep and touched us all," Moore said.
One student was even moved to tears. "She made me cry," said sophomore visual and media arts major Christina Campbell.
Another act that got rave reviews from students was the live soul music show with Black August. Black August is an up-and-coming band from Rochester, New York known for their eclectic soul sound.
Sophomore Cristal Montanez, a communication studies major, attended the event and liked what she heard.
"They were amazing. Their drummer was amazing amazing vocalist, and guitarist," she said.
A panel discussion simply called "Hair" wove all the goals of African American Heritage Month at Emerson into one event. Led by Georgina Chapman, Moore and Brit Jones, all members of EBONI, the panel discussed hair relaxers, weaves, natural hair, and the connotations of different black hairstyles. Two movie clips from iSchool Daze/i and iMalcolm X,/i both by director Spike Lee were shown after the discussion. During an open forum, the panel and the 12 audience members shared personal stories of their trying relationships with their difficult to manage hair. The tone turned serious as the topics transitioned from personal stories of weaves and perms, to how beauty is perceived, social pressure to conform and discrimination in the workplace based not only on race but also on hairstyle.
This was the first event of the month that freshman, Ashley Lindsay, has been able to attend.
"The entire discussion was really insightful," Lindsay said, "especially hearing personal stories of hair and skin color, it is important to get different perspectives."
"Hair" captured the spirit of African American Heritage Month with a lively exchange of stories and ideas reaching across cultures and ultimately connecting different people through common experience.
From poetry readings to discussions about hair each unique event sought to promote a broader understanding of black culture.
"It is important for Americans to remember the past and not to forget the people who shaped our country," Moore said. "It has always been very important to me."