Programming for this year’s Black History Month opened with a dialogue between three prominent alumni. This conversation, a reflection on the history, barriers and foundational principles of the Harlem Children’s Zone, was moderated by President Clayton Rose and featured founders of the Harlem’s Children’s Zone Geoffrey Canada ’74 H’07, George Khaldun ’73 and Stanley Druckenmiller ’75 H’07.
The event centered around a discussion of Harlem Rising, a documentary about the Harlem Children’s Zone. Participants watched the documentary in advance of the program.
“I have heard from colleagues who, just like myself, really enjoyed the conversation with Harlem Rising,” Eduardo Pazos, the assistant dean of student affairs for inclusion and diversity, said in a Microsoft Teams interview with the Orient. “It was cool to get to see some of the important work that those Bowdoin alumni have done and the way that the movement became something that could be replicated.”
This month’s programming, coordinated primarily by the Black Student Union (BSU) with the help of Pazos, will continue to center Black voices and the contributions of Black professionals to democracy, civil rights, scholarship, science and the arts. Throughout February, students will have the opportunity to speak with annual MLK lecturer Dr. Beverly Tatum H’06, Black Lives Matter leader DeRay McKesson ’07, members of the Black Alumni Organization of Bowdoin and BCMA curatorial assistant and manager of student programs Elizabeth Humphrey ’14 via Zoom.
The annual Martin Luther King, Jr. lecture by Dr. Beverly Tatum H’06, in particular, will act as a chance for the Bowdoin community to reflect on Dr. King’s dream and view it in the context of the disproportionate impacts of the pandemic on Black and brown communities and the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement.
Although this month’s traditional Ebony Ball and comedy show was cancelled due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, BSU President Johari Joseph ’21 sees a clear upside to the virtual format.
“It’ll be more intimate because the people who come to that event will be super hyped to be there and will really want to hear what’s happening and ask questions,” she said in a Zoom interview with the Orient.
Pazos also noted the benefits of conducting these events remotely.
“Before COVID-19, Bowdoin was to a certain extent limited to what was happening on campus around Black History Month,” he said. “An opportunity that Zoom world has given us is that now we’re able to invite a lot more folks to these conversations.”
Beyond the context of COVID-19, the programming this month carries the weight of addressing the Black Lives Matter movement and the College’s continued effort to build a diverse and inclusive Bowdoin community. One panel of events, which will feature young, Black alumni, is aimed at building connections and community among Black students by highlighting the experiences and accomplishments of Black graduates in the workforce.
Christiana Okafor ’23, a BSU member, emphasized that the impact of these events will depend on how directly speakers confront issues of racism and white supremacy.
“Don’t say that discriminating against people is bad. You need to say that racism, which is upheld by white supremacy, is bad,” she said in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “Say the issue, allow for students to engage, and ask questions. Don’t try to say it in a way that won’t offend the majority. Say the issue so that everyone can know what it is and so that we can solve the problem.”
According to Pazos and Joseph, there has already been an increase in momentum and student engagement with diversity, equity and inclusion work since the fall semester. The events in the coming weeks should help build on this work.
“We need to hear from people who one, say what needs to be said, and also speak from a different lens and give us another side of what being Black is and how being Black has shaped them and their lives,” Joseph said. “It’s a time where action is super necessary, considering Black people are still dying and police officers are still acting crazy and there is still mistrust and a lack of feeling completely safe. I don’t think that’ll change unless a lot of things change. It’s a matter of making a lot of people uncomfortable.”