Black History Month to be marked on NMU campus

MARQUETTE – A full line up of events has been scheduled for Black History Month at Northern Michigan University, and the two co-presidents of the Black Student Union are hoping to keep that momentum going for years to come.

NMU juniors Taylor Johnson and Liddia Wells said it was important to ramp up awareness of Black History Month at Northern, where they said they were meeting people who had never heard of it.

“Coming up here, we have really been experiencing that people really didn’t know what Black History Month was,” Wells said. “They didn’t even know it was in February, that it actually existed, so we just want to make sure and educate people on why it’s important, what it is, how it came about.”

Johnson said being a black student at Northern, where the vast majority of the student population is white and only a small percentage is African American, not having a formal recognition of Black History Month was unacceptable.

“We want black students to want to come back (to Northern),” Johnson said. “When you’re constantly (being asked), ‘What is it that we can do?’ and you don’t have anything for Black History Month, that’s the starting point right there, trying to make Black History Month relevant ….

“You want to make the diversity groups here feel as much a part of Northern as every other student too, and you can’t even say you’re doing something for Black History Month? It’s like, ‘Oh, well, what role do we really play? Are we here just so you can say we have black students at your university, or is it because you care about us and want to learn from us and hear our stories?'”

Recognizing the need for such an event, Johnson said the amped up month will hopefully begin killing racial stereotypes of both black and white students at the university.

“I feel like sometimes, we have such a clean slate here, that when we say educate we mean in all possible aspects,” Johnson said. “Just our day-to-day life, our backgrounds, maybe even down to the things that we wear, the way we talk, anything. When we say educate, we mean in every way possible, not necessary particular pertaining to Black History Month.”

The biggest event sponsored by BSU in February is a speech that will be given by Ilyasah Shabazz, a daughter of civil rights leader Malcolm X. The event will take place at 7 p.m. Feb. 19 inside Jamrich 103.

“We haven’t had any strong African American women come here – we had Maya Angelou come in the past but I’m talking about recently,” Johnson said. “We always had men. Men are most common to come up here, whether they’re black, white or whomever, to come up and speak, so we were like, ‘We need to get her…’ She was all around the perfect person to give us a starting ground up here as far as speakers. She’ll have a great story to tell, from her parents to her own life.”

With more activities scheduled for Black History Month than any of the three years both women have been attending NMU, they said they hope to lay a foundation which future BSU students can work from.

“Not only are we showing the whole campus and the whole Marquette community that, yes, this is going on, this is why its going on, but we’re actually building a foundation for future generations at Northern, for them to see that we’ve been doing stuff for Black History Month, they can build on it,” Wells said.

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.