The Multicultural Education and Resource Center (MERC) and NMU’s Black Student Union will be sponsoring four events throughout February in honor of Black History Month. The presentations will seek to educate students and faculty members about the history and issues surrounding the black community and the importance of Black History Month at Northern.
“These presentations provide continual education for all of our students and faculty, allowing them to learn more about African American culture and history,” said Shirley Brozzo, associate director of MERC and one of the faculty members scheduled to speak.
In addition to the upcoming presentations, on Monday, Feb. 7, Maya Lilly presented her one-woman play, “Mixed – What are you?” in which the Juilliard-trained actor portrayed eight different characters, with eight different stories, all revolving around each character’s mixed heritage. Lilly has been touring with the self-written show since 2005, and says the lack of mixed race people in the media is a main catalyst for its creation.
“I’ve always been looking for my story . I feel like it’s my responsibility to teach the world that it’s OK to fall between the cracks,” said Lilly, referring to her mixed heritage. “Those of us that have fallen through the cracks might cause a mighty reckoning in the future.”
The presentation “The African American Voting Experience,” by Ruth Watry, an associate professor of political science at NMU will be held on Wednesday, Feb. 18 at 6 p.m. in the Nicolet Room of the University Center. Watry will be discussing the journey black Americans have gone through in the past to get full voting rights and the influence of those rights on the present.
Also on Feb. 18, NMU’s Black Student Union will be bringing Boyce Watkins, a prominent black speaker and financial scholar to speak on campus. The presentation will be at 7:30 p.m. in Jamrich 103.
Watkins, known as “The People’s Scholar,” is a finance professor at Syracuse University, as well as a leading social commentator, according to his website, www.boycewatkins.com.
The following day, Markisha Smith, assistant professor of education, will give a presentation entitled “Uncovering our Past, Preparing for Our Future: The History of African Americans at NMU.” It will be held at 6 p.m. in the Erie Room of the University Center. The presentation will focus on the first black students to graduate from NMU, the sit-ins and protests of the 1960s, and prominent black people who have attended the university.
“I think (this presentation) will give students some sense of where the university has come, in terms of diversity, and I think that’s important. Sometimes we forget about the history, and if students can make a connection between their lives now and those who paved the way, that’s important,” Smith said.
Over the years, Smith has seen how the celebration of Black History Month has not only changed in its approach, but also remained the same in its meaning on college campuses.
“It tends to have the same focus,” Smith said, “but I think the way it’s approached, in terms of technology, is what has evolved. Often our focus is the same, but the way we present the information is different.”
Brozzo will present “Is Obama Really the First Black President?” on Saturday, Feb. 28 at 5 p.m. in the Pioneer Room B of the U.C. The presentation will look at presidents before Barack Obama who may have had black ancestry.
According to Smith, this month of acknowledgment is an important time throughout the country, especially for the black community.
“Black History Month is a recognition of pioneers in this country, those who have in many cases died so other African Americans can have their freedoms and rights,” Smith said. “In essence, it is a celebration of what it means to be African American.”