Speech Kicks Off Black History Month

Dinner, discussion highlights contemporary issues faced by black Americans

Addressing over 50 students at a kick-off dinner for Black History Month Friday night, Assistant Professor of Sociology Prudence L. Carter challenged audience members to voice their own opinions on contemporary issues confronted by black Americans.

Her address launched the Black Students Association’s (BSA) month-long celebration of black history. Throughout February, the BSA, in conjunction with other student groups, will promote activities such as movie screenings, community service initiatives, discussion groups, concerts, a play, and even a formal dance.

But Carter’s address—entitled “Making History”—did not dwell on past achievements but focused instead on encouraging dialogue and engaging students in “provocative question raising,” as Carter said.

Drawing a parallel to the ideological split between followers of turn-of-the-century thinkers Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois that reached its apogee during the Civil Rights Movement, Carter said that blacks today face new challenges as socioeconomic, gender, and religious “schisms” within the black community become more apparent.

Carter’s speech sparked an energetic dialogue with the audience, posing questions such as, “How do we cohere to achieve social justice?” and inviting audience members to ponder what their goals—as Harvard students and future leaders—should be.

Lawrence E. Adjah ’06, president of the BSA, dubbed the event a success, saying, “The audience was very engaged.” He praised the high turnout but added that the small setting, at the Barker Center’s Thompson Room, remained “communal and intimate . . . exactly what we wanted.”

Kwame Owusu-Kesse ’06, president of the Black Men’s Forum (BMF), noted that this year’s Black History Month events emphasize reaching out to the entire Harvard community and beyond. The BSA established a motto for the month—“Black History Is Your History”—and it was in this spirit that black student organizations have sent out mass e-mails and tacked up posters around campus to garner attention to Black History Month events, according to Owusu-Kesse.

He said that the initiative has been well received on campus. “My inbox has been flooded,” Owusu-Kesse said. “I’ve seen people really excited.”

Stevie N. DeGroff ’06, who attended Friday night’s event after learning that Carter would be speaking, said that she preferred the discussion format of the event to a traditional lecture. She also said that she would like to see more open dialogue on campus about issues that face the black community. “There should be more forum discussions like this,” she said.

The events in February are supplemented by a list of recommended readings and movie screenings, posted around campus by the BSA and other student groups.

Praising student groups for writing editorials and distributing these reading lists, Carter said after her speech that she was “impressed with the intellectual content of the events.”

This week’s events include a performance by the Kuumba Singers as well as the first annual BSA formal, the Renaissance Ball.