‘Sharing our stories’ for Black History Month

By Anthony Rentsch

(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)
(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)

A slew of University of Massachusetts organizations have come together to host and promote a series of upcoming events dedicated to the spirit and celebration of Black History Month.

At the helm of all of this activity is the Center for Multicultural Advancement and Student Success (CMASS), which has taken the liberty not only to sponsor a pair of Black History Month events, but also to help promote the events being put on by other groups and academic departments.

“It is important because it is an opportunity for students in the sciences and other areas for exposure to other aspects of history,” said Joyce Vincent, associate director for cultural enrichment at CMASS.

“It is an opportunity to expand in a fun and relaxing way and to gain cross-cultural competency,” Vincent said. She added that this series is crucial for modern careers but is not focused on enough nationally.

While the CMASS-advertised events, which began Jan. 27 and end March 30, have no explicit theme, Vincent said there has been a running theme for everything that CMASS has been doing this year: “Sharing our stories across the diasporas.”

Vincent stressed that these events aim to address issues that students are concerned with, including racial disparity and mass incarceration, in addition to touching on historical topics.

The March 5 event, “Dying While Black and Brown,” performed by the San Francisco-based Zaccho Dance Theater and sponsored by the Five Colleges Multicultural Theater Committee, fits perfectly in line with Vincent’s description.

Professor Kim Euell of the theater department is responsible for bringing the performance to the University. A teach-in held by the English department last semester after racist messages were left on several UMass students’ door room doors left her wondering what she could do to add to the conversation.

Euell said that “Dying While Black and Brown” is a highly acclaimed movement-based performance, exploring themes related to “the mass incarceration of black people and the disproportionate representation of blacks on death row.”

After the performance, Euell said there will be a panel discussion to “raise public consciousness of the issues” above and beyond just experiencing the performance.

Although the events feature many prominent scholars, performers and political figures, including Josefina Baez and Angela Davis, there is a real focus on allowing students to connect with and engage in the topics at hand. The African Student Association is hosting a “Mr. Africa Cultural Night” on Feb. 27 and many of the other events have Q&A or panel discussion components.

“It’s a chance to engage in U.S. and world history and to get us to think about social justice on different levels and platforms,” Vincent said.

Other groups hosting events include the Malcolm X Cultural Center; W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies; W. E. B. Du Bois Library, Students of Caribbean Ancestry, Commonwealth Honors College; Students of Caribbean Ancestry and the African Student Association.

Anthony Rentsch can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Anthony_Rentsch.