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Black Student Organizations Adapt Black History Month Programming to Virtual Setting

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As Black students at the College remain scattered across the world amid the coronavirus pandemic, many Black cultural organizations are finding ways to adapt staples of their Black History Month programming to a virtual setting.

In a typical year, Black cultural organizations gather in House common space and classrooms across campus to honor Black History Month through a series of discussions, socials, movie screenings, and trivia nights.

Samantha C. W. O’Sullivan ’22, president of the Generational African American Students Association, said her organization will be hosting a discussion series called “For Tha Culture February” to analyze topics related to Black culture, such as politics, code-switching, representation in media, and self-love and relationships.

“We wanted to use Black History Month to really delve deeper into a lot of these topics and focus on issues related to generational African Americans that aren’t usually talked about,” O’Sullivan said.

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Orvin A. Pierre ’22, president of the Black Men’s Forum, said the group is planning to launch its alumni mentorship program this month and host a forum for its members to examine the impact of Covid-19 on Black individuals.

Marissa J. Joseph ’23, special events chair for the Association of Black Harvard Women and an active editor for the Crimson Editorial Board, said ABHW planned a social media campaign to support Black-owned businesses in Cambridge.

“On our Instagram story, we are going to be highlighting Black grassroots organizations in Cambridge,” Joseph said. “Our hope is to raise awareness and exposure about these organizations.”

Other organizations, like Harvard Black Community Leaders, will continue to hold their annual Community Conversations series this February to facilitate conversations among Black students related to exclusivity, sexual assault accountability, being Black at Harvard, and the impact of social media.

In addition, the Black Students Association — Harvard’s largest affinity group — will host its fourth annual Black Legacy Ball, an annual gala to honor the achievements of Black students, faculty, and alumni.

While many Black students will observe Black History Month, some members of Black cultural organizations called on University affiliates more broadly to honor the month too.

Joseph said she wishes Harvard students would “educate themselves beyond the surface level” through the variety of classes Harvard offers pertaining to Black history and culture.

“I would love for people to ask themselves whether they have been taking the steps to educate themselves or did they just post on Instagram and keep it pushing,” Joseph said. “People can read some Black radical texts and make sure that they are putting in the work education-wise.”

Joseph added that ABHW’s work does not stop in February — it is a yearlong operation.

“ABHW makes it a point to celebrate Black history and Black women,” Joseph said. “In a normal school year, we have various educational events that are on the forefront of creating change on campus.”

Pierre said Black History Month is “empowering” and called on Harvard affiliates to consider why Black history is underrepresented in school curricula.

“I’d say reflect upon why we think it is that Black history isn’t taught in schools or isn’t taught as much, except for a month,” Pierre said. “To really reflect upon our history as America and see where we can improve upon teaching our histories and being overall generally inclusive of the knowledge that we share about our communities.”

O’Sullivan also said attending events and learning about Black history should continue after February.

“I hope that students who aren’t Black or aren’t involved in the Black community become aware of the different Black groups on campus and take the time to engage and go to some of these events,” O’Sullivan said.

“At least speaking for GAASA — and I know it’s true for all of the other Black orgs — we all put on programming like this year round,” she said. “To us, every month is Black History Month.”

–Staff writer Audrey M. Apollon can be reached at audrey.apollon@thecrimson.com.

–Staff writer Leah J. Teichholtz can be reached at leah.teichholtz@thecrimson.com.

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