The University of Michigan’s Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs hosted the opening ceremony of Black History Month Tuesday afternoon. The opening ceremony consisted of spoken word, music performances and a keynote address delivered by Dr. Naomi André, professor of Women’s Studies.
MESA’s theme for Black History Month 2022 is Black Joy. According to the Black History Month committee, “Black Joy shows that as Black people, despite the centuries of trauma we have experienced, we are proud to be who we are. No matter where we come from or what we identify as, we are one and we are happy to be Black.”
The opening ceremony consisted of a spoken word performance by LSA sophomore Benjamin Colding titled “Joy is Pride”.
“I can go down this Zoom call and bet money that dang near all of us have been slammed, sneered at, slided and slandered for, I don’t know, wearing caps indoors, wearing hoods when it’s cold, letting our hair chill in its natural state, and just not giving in to many unsung pressures emitted by an abundance of forces in society,” Colding said. “And instead of dropping out, and instead decided to pursue their ideal images of successes with nothing but twinkles in their eyes.”
Colding said he feels pride and joy for the accomplishments of the Black community.
“From dang near nothing, we built a culture that would sing its influence globally, and ain’t there power in that?” Colding said. “With our predecessors as our teachers have we gained a top-tier education and ain’t there strength in that? With nothing but our hands and feet did we imbue ourselves within an abundance of skills and talents and ain’t there joy in that?”
Neika White, a U-M alum and administrative assistant for MESA, spoke at the opening ceremony and said she believes Black joy is knowing you belong everywhere you go.
“Black joy means that so many things keep happening to my people, I have to stand up and make a choice everyday that am I going to show up, or am I just going to be there,” White said. “Sometimes you have no choice to decide whether you are going to be there or not because the minute you show up you stand out.”
Dillon Cathro, program manager for MESA, also spoke at the event and said Black History Month is important as a space for Black people to share their experiences and joy since these spaces are hard to come by.
“Blackness is not a monolithic experience,” Cathro said. “Black, Blackness, Afro-descendentness, whatever you wanna call it, means something different to every person,” Dylan said. “But that experience being Black is unified. It’s not everyday that we get to have a space like this to share in commonality, to share in joy, because we are oftentimes talking about things that are not joyous when it applies to Black communities.”
To begin her keynote address, André said of the ideals expressed in the University’s DEI initiative, belonging feels the most personal to her..
“For many of us who have been excluded and continued to feel disenfranchised in various parts of the University structure, belonging is not an aspiration that is proven by statistics and enforced through surveys and workshops,” André said. “Belonging is the feeling that you have been seen as truly human.”
André said hymns are significant to the political, social and spiritual articulation of many cultures and communities, and Black culture is no exception.
“In the mid-20th century, hymns had a special use in the civil rights movement and linked to the theme of devotion, praise, liberty and protest all together,” André said.
André then used “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a hymn written by brothers James Weldon and J. Rosamond Johnson as an example to explain the potential social implications of a hymn. The song was first sung by a chorus of 500 Black schoolchildren in Jacksonville in 1900 to celebrate President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. The schoolchildren passed on the song to other students and teachers and in 20 years, the song was sung all over the South and in other parts of the country. André said this song is known as the National Negro Hymn.
“While there is nothing in the three stanzas of the text that exclusively refers to African Americans, the Black experience is embodied while also referencing triumphs, struggles and strengths all humans encounter,” André said. “The concluding lines, ‘true to our God, true to our native land,’ combined praise and national pride, sentiments that perfectly encapsulate the mission of a national hymn.”
Daily Staff Reporter Caroline Wang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.