Feb. 1 marked the first day of Black History Month 2023, and Ohio University has been celebrating all month. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the national 2023 Black History Month theme is "Black Resistance." This theme explores "how African Americans have addressed historic and ongoing disadvantage and oppression, as evidenced by recent events."
OU adheres to the national theme, stating it recognizes "the historic and ongoing oppression that Black Americans have faced and resisted in all forms." Other OU-affiliated entities such as the Kennedy Museum of Art are celebrating the month, with the art museum hosting a series called "Centering Black Artists."
According to History.com, since 1976, every U.S. president has officially recognized February as Black History Month. The origins of the second month of the year being dedicated to Black history lies in the initial efforts of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, or ASALH.
In 1926, the association sponsored a national Negro History Week. The second week of February was chosen because it was during Abraham Lincoln's and Frederick Douglass' birthdays. Thanks to the Civil Rights Movement, the week evolved into a month on many college campuses, and, eventually, President Gerald Ford recognized Black History Month in 1976.
Ford addressed the American public and told them to "seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history."
Regarding what OU is doing for the month, former Executive Director of Diversity and Inclusion Duane Bruce said deciding which events to do was long and thorough, reflecting the month's importance. According to Bruce, the committee and staff members began in December; everyone gathered to identify six anchor events for the celebration.
In addition to university-sponsored events, OU also created a video series called "Being Black at OHIO." The series featured Black students, faculty and staff sharing their experiences at OU. Even Front Room Coffee House and Court Street Coffee have done their part to celebrate, featuring Black history facts on their coffee sleeves.
"The committee has been great to work with and worked quickly to establish a robust set of anchor events for this year's Black History Month," Bruce wrote in an email. "We also quickly worked with our colleagues in University Communications and Marketing to design the webpage and other marketing pieces."
Re'Aija Grice, a senior studying exercise physiology pre-med, is involved with many organizations on campus, including serving as the health liaison of the Minority Association of Pre-Health Students and the treasurer for the Epsilon Iota Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.
Grice participated in a panel with the Black Student Cultural Programming Board about Black relationships and Black love. She said her perspective was unique due to her long-term relationship, which is currently long-distance.
"(I was) just talking about how we can create more of a healthy environment within Black and brown relationships, and we talked a lot about mental health," Grice said. "I think it went really well."
Grice is a fan of what OU is doing with Black History Month programming, including the theme chosen by ASALH.
"I love how the university is celebrating it," she said. "Resistance is our theme this year, and I think that word is very, very, very, very powerful and it's very prevalent, not even just right now but just from previous years up into where we are now."
Southeast Ohio has a deep history rooted in the Black community. Bruce is candid about that history, including those figures specific to OU and Athens.
"From John Newton Templeton to the Berry Hotel to the Underground Railroad and more, we hope community members have opportunities this month, and always, to learn more about Black history in the region," Bruce said in an email.
Sheyenne Grainger, a sophomore studying sociology, is also involved in a variety of organizations, one being the Ohio University Recruiting Society, or O.U.R.S. The organization aims to recruit multicultural students to OU.
Grainger said an event they did this past month that she enjoyed was a Black History Month Edition Family Feud. The event was hosted on Feb. 21, and Grainger said the game show was designed to quiz contestants on Black history.
Regarding programming and recognition from OU in the future, Grainger has an optimistic perspective.
"Me and my peers as well as other faculty have talked about how we really have a long way to go, but we have all the tools and the right people working towards those goals," Grainger said. "I'm very hopeful for the future of the university."
Celebrating Black History Month looks different for everyone, but Grice views it as a time to unite and look ahead to the future.
"I think when we talk about Black History Month it sometimes can be very exclusive and other communities that don't identify as Black feel like they're on the outside looking in, which they are, but this is a time where we are, of course, celebrating our culture and celebrating our differences," Grice said. "It's more important for us to be unified in this time and come together as a community."