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African American History Month Events to Continue Through February

The University commemorated the start of African American History Month with its annual Flag Raising Ceremony on Feb. 1 in front of Wilson Hall.

The event was sponsored by the Office of Student Activities, the African American Student Union (AASU), and the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW).

Crystalyn Espinal, Assistant Director of Student Activities, described how each year’s Flag Raising Ceremony is “unique.” This year, student input was more focused on the beginnings of African American History Month.

According to Espinal, the original ceremony would have had observers gathered on the patio of Wilson Hall as two student leaders raised the flag with the help of Facilities Management.

Instead, Espinal implemented an impromptu moment of silence and encouraged all students and faculty to stand together with the student leaders as the flag was raised.

“It was just out of respect for those who have fought and represented the meaning of [the flag],” she said of the moment of silence.

Espinal went on to detail how the new format encouraged conversation between attendees afterward.

“I liked standing with the [club] officers and with facilities [management] and with our student leaders versus just up at Wilson from afar,” she explained.

“It symbolizes the public recognition of a national celebration,” said Claude Taylor, Advisor-in-Residence for Academic Transition and Inclusion and advisor to AASU. “I think the University took its cues from the national Black History Month rituals of a Pan-African black consciousness, which is what the flag represents.”

Taylor detailed the meaning of the flag’s colors: green is used to represent a connection to the land in Africa; red symbolizes the blood of those who lost their lives in the Atlantic Slave Trade; and the black is tied to the people affected by historical injustices such as slavery and segregation.

Taylor emphasized that the focus of the event is to solidify the University’s stance that supports having such a month-long commemoration centered on the idea of bringing certain aspects of the nation’s history to light.

“At the end of the day we have students who identify as so many different cultures and religions, and when we stop traditions that celebrate even one of those, we are kind of digressing as a University,” said Espinal. She emphasized that ceremonies like the flag raising are essential to allowing students to express their identities.

“The flag raising ceremony is important because it recognizes the hard work African Americans have put forth in this country and allows us to celebrate a culture that has not always been accepted in this country,” said senior communication student Jihad Johnson, AASU’s Social Media Coordinator. He believes that events like this serve to educate others about different cultures in order to unify members of the Monmouth community.

“The thing that has struck me about the passage of time between last year and this year is the heightened awareness of disparity,” Taylor said. He detailed how this celebration generates some controversy because some people believe that the victimization of African Americans should be left in the past, even though issues of disparity today, such as economics, healthcare, education, and law enforcement, are directly linked to the racialized history of the United States.

To fully benefit from University’s observance of African American History Month, Espinal recommends students go on the trip to New York City with NCNW and AASU later this month. She also recommends the “Leaving a Legacy” sponsor ed by NCNW and AASU for positive conversations about the themes surrounding the month.

“The University should make space to facilitate discussions and analysis [of issues of race],” said Taylor. “I think we’re doing better.” He cited programs such as the biannual conference on race and ethnicity sponsored by the University as well as the race and ethnicities minor offered to students. “We should continue to reevaluate the instructional curriculum and the general education curriculum,” he said.

Espinal has hopes to continue programming throughout the month until the Flag Lowering Ceremony on Feb. 28, which she says will be planned to make sure that the University community understands that the spirit of the commemorations should continue throughout the year.