When he started to speak Thursday inside Rackham Amphitheatre, Lester Spence choked up and wiped tears from his eyes. As one of the speakers in “Taking Back the X, Bringing Back the Love,” Spence, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University, helped wrap up the University’s series of Black History Month events. Spence said this experience was an emotional one, because he felt so personally connected to the University.

The event took place on the third anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s death, and the group acknowledged a moment of silence in his honor.

Fifteen University groups collaborated to organize the event, which included storytelling and singing, and featured five alumni keynote speakers.

In addition to Spence, speakers included Melba Joyce Boyd, distinguished professor of Africana Studies at Wayne State University; Gerloni Cotton, a law student at University of California, Los Angeles; Dominique Mathews, a Detroit-based poet; L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy, associate professor at City College of New York; and Rackham student Austin McCoy.

McCoy said the “Taking Back the X” event means something different to each individual, but for him, his focus was on the human rights leader Malcolm X and considering ways to rethink his legacy in the context of today’s society.

“I think when it came to issues of racism in this country, he wasn’t the sort of optimism that MLK was and his way of dealing with racism, it meant on the one hand calling out white supremacy whenever he could, but then also making sure that Black people were organized,” McCoy said.

In his talk, McCoy touched on the importance of the history of racial issues in the United States. He also said students need to think radically about activism and he encouraged them not to make compromises when addressing racial issues.

Elizabeth James, a program associate from the Department of Afroamerican and African studies, said she likes that “Taking Back the X” is an event open for interpretation. She said the significance of the event’s title is rooted in the historical meaning of the letter X, particularly in relation to her ancestors’ obligation to sign their names with an X.

“The fact that we were taking (the X) back was the sense that we were reclaiming our ancestors and really paying homage to the fact that there are those that come before us, and it’s important to recognize and to let them offer wisdom to our current students,” James said.

Many of the speakers, including Cotton and Spence, emphasized the importance of Black community. Spence focused on solidarity and the need to build community at the University and elsewhere.

“The political battles and the political trials that we have, they’re exciting and they can be tiring too, but they won’t sustain you,” Cotton said. “What will really sustain you is the people that you’re in that battle with.”

In tandem with this idea, most of the speakers said there is a vibrant Black community at the University and acknowledged the importance of Black student groups, such as the Black Student Union and movements like #BBUM.

LSA freshman Gloriela Iguina-Colón said as a Puerto Rican she felt a sense of community at the event as a minority, noting a lot of the stories told will stick with her for a long time.

“I came mainly because I feel like the recent movements on campus have been really important,” Iguina-Colón said.

James said engaging students and alumni on campus is key for building a community and increasing education on these issues.

“We do a lot of talking about UM leaders and best, and if we’re forging these new voices to go out into the world, and if we’re going to be working to empower and invigorate and create a better world, we have to start here,” James said. “College campuses have bright young minds that are open to looking at things in a different way.”

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