Black History Month Celebrations Around Province

Johann Cuervo Around the Province

Karen Lynch and students from St. Peter Claver School in Macon, Ga. (Photo courtesy of Karen)

Schools and ministries around the Province commemorated Black History Month with   presentations, festivals and other activities that brought to life the culture’s vibrant heritage.

Siena College in Loudonville, N.Y., held several events during the month of February, which in 1976 was chosen to observe black history. On Feb. 1, Michael Brown, Sr., spoke to students about his experience after the death of his son in Ferguson in 2014. He announced that he had started the Chosen for Change Foundation, an organization whose purpose is to empower youth by helping them “realize their potential for greatness.” On Feb. 15, the school’s Black and Latino Student Union took part in organizing a Taste of African culinary traditions as well as a roundtable discussion about the documentary “13th.” In the thought-provoking film, scholars, activists and politicians analyze the criminalization of African Americans and the U.S. prison boom.

“The goal at Siena is to celebrate black culture and diverse backgrounds throughout the year,” said George Camacho, OFM, assistant director of Siena’s Damietta Cross-Cultural Center.

The commemorations continue during the month of March with a sampling of ethnic foods and several speakers — activist Shaun King on March 6 and environmental justice scholar and author Robert Bullard on March 28. These symposiums are part of Siena’s Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King Lecture Series on Race and Nonviolent Social Change.

In Western New York, St. Bonaventure University hosted its celebration of Black History Month with a series “And Still We Rise: Expressions of Black Heritage & Identity.” On Feb. 15, the university hosted a panel discussion “What Black Feminism Means in the 21st Century.” The panelists included Monica Ridgeway, equity and inclusion coordinator at the Education Collaborative of Western New York; Tiffany Nyachae, lecturer at the University of Buffalo; Kara Oliver, program specialist at the National Federation for Just Communities of Western New York; and Donika Kelly, assistant professor of English at St. Bonaventure. On Feb. 23, Somali-American poet and teacher Ladan Osman hosted a poetry reading.

Donika Kelly and Somalian poet Ladan Osman during SBU’s Poets Series (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Eng)

“This year’s Black History Month programs are a direct reflection of the larger conversations that we as a society need to continue to have,” said Parker Suddeth, coordinator of the Damietta Center for Multicultural Student Affairs at the university.

“The theme for this year, ‘And Still We Rise: Expressions of Black Heritage & Identity,’ speaks directly to mission and programmatic objectives of the Damietta Center. As a Franciscan university whose deep roots are steeped in social justice and inclusion, we believe that these events will be meaningful and transformative,” he said.

Students at St. Peter Claver School during a Black History Month activity (Photo courtesy of SPCS)

To the south, students in pre K – 5th grade at St. Peter Claver School in Macon, Ga., observed Black History Month by completing reports and creating poems and drawings. Middle School students researched African Americans who became “first in their field.” Past student projects revealed a child’s relative who was the first black mayor of Macon, a grandfather who was a Tuskegee airman and other student relatives who broke racial barriers in their communities. At the end of the month, students and faculty joined together in the Mother Katharine Drexel Center for presentations by each grade.

“I hope to instill in my students the knowledge that African American history is important and sometimes, not easily uncovered. If my students begin to recognize the sacrifices their ancestors made so their walk on this earth is easier, then I am succeeding in my goal,” said Karen Lynch, who for the past five years has organized the school’s Black History Month activities.

St. Peter Claver Parish was founded in 1888 as an African-American mission parish. Located in the Pleasant Hill neighborhood, the parish is a diverse community of African-American, Latino, Caucasian and Filipino Catholics. William McIntyre, OFM, pastor of the parish said the events would continue in November as the congregation celebrates Black Catholic History Month. “We look forward to honoring parishioners who were devoted to St. Peter Claver Church and School, in November,” said William.

In South Carolina, the students of St. Anthony of Padua Catholic School in Greenville attended the film “Rosenwald” at nearby Furman University and hosted actor Jeremiah Dew who portrayed Booker Washington, Martin Luther King Jr. and President Barack Obama at an event.

“The parish also held a parish festival with music, dance and testimony,” said Patrick Tuttle, OFM, pastor.

In Delaware, St. Joseph Parish, often called the cradle of African-American Catholicism in Wilmington, held events every Sunday throughout February. Parishioners gathered on Feb. 12 to watch a film about black history and held a discussion with the youth ministry. On Feb. 19, Angela Winand, head of the Center for African American Heritage and Diversity Programming at Delaware Historical Society led a presentation and on Feb. 26, the parish held a soul food luncheon.

St. Joseph is the oldest historically African American Catholic parish in the Diocese of Wilmington. It was organized in 1889 by Fr. John DeRuyter of the Josephites and incorporated as St. Joseph’s Society for Colored Missions on March 4, 1890. Over the years, Fr. DeRuyter expanded the church’s role in the community to include an orphanage, a school and a free dispensary. One of the school’s most prominent students was State Senator Herman M. Holloway, the first African-American to serve in the Delaware State Senate.

— Johann Cuervo is communications assistant for Holy Name Province. Jocelyn Thomas provided research for this article.

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