Message from the Interim Chief Diversity Officer
Dear App State Community,
The origins of Black History Month can be traced back to 1926, when Carter G. Woodson and the others who founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History introduced Negro History Week to coincide with the birthdays of President Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. By the 1970s, college campuses such as Kent State had expanded the weeklong recognition into a month-long celebration, and Black History Month was officially declared in 1976 by President Gerald Ford.
While the opportunities to learn about Black history are now just a click or two away — and being more actively integrated into education at all levels — taking the time to intentionally pause, acknowledge and celebrate achievements of Black musicians, scientists and community leaders provides an opportunity for us to broaden our knowledge and helps us see how the past connects with our lives today.
At App State, we have been celebrating Black history and leadership through multiple events, programs and discussions, including a few key events highlighted below:
- We invite the campus community to attend the rescheduled Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 1, at the Schaefer Center for the Performing Arts, featuring Bakari Sellers, CNN political analyst, author and former representative from South Carolina. The MLK Day of Service, which was also rescheduled due to weather, takes place this Saturday, Feb. 26. For over two decades, the MLK Day of Service has invited hundreds of students to participate in an opportunity for service, reflection and education.
- App State history professor Dr. Michael Krenn studies U.S. diplomatic history with a particular focus on the impacts of race and culture. Dr. Krenn recently served as the lead consultant in a PBS documentary called “The American Diplomat,” featuring the stories of three Cold War-era African American diplomats — Edward Dudley, Terence Todman and Carl Rowan. The documentary is based on Dr. Krenn’s book from 1999 called “Black Diplomacy: African Americans and the State Department, 1945-69.” Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of State renamed the cafeteria after Ambassador Terence Todman. Terence Todman joined the State Department at a time when there were limited career opportunities for Black Americans — let alone opportunities in governmental leadership. If you would like to view this documentary, please visit the PBS website.
- This month, the Hayes School of Music hosted a Black History Month Concert Series led by artistic director Melissa Lesbines and featuring composers such as Thelonious Monk, Jelly Roll Morton and Brian Raphael Nabors, as well as poetry by Ishmael Reed — whom I heard listened in on one of the concerts.
- Black Greek-letter organizations are significant to the development and community of Black culture. Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. is the first intercollegiate historically Black fraternity and also the first historically Black fraternity recognized on App State’s campus. Former Chief Diversity Officer Dr. Willie Fleming is a charter member of Alpha Phi Alpha and also served as an advocate for six other Divine Nine sororities and fraternities to join our campus. These organizations create leadership opportunities and community for many on our campus. With the support of Chancellor Sheri Everts, App State honored the legacy and future of our National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) organizations by establishing a plots and garden site in 2018. Several alumni of these organizations — and their legacy of leadership — are featured in a recent Appalachian Today article. To learn more about our NPHC organizations, please visit the App State NPHC website.
- Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to participate in the Walker College of Business’ Courageous Conversations panel discussion. This year’s theme — “How to have bold, inclusive conversations” — was a timely discussion as we grapple with the complex histories of our past, current societal challenges and the desire to build a better future. I invite you to check out the recording of this conversation featuring business leaders James Reaves (also an App State Board of Trustees member), Danielle Gray, Meshach Cleary and Brenda Young.
It’s nearly impossible to go through the month of February — a month dedicated to the celebration of Black leaders — without acknowledging the issues in recent years that continue to impact Black communities. Feb. 26 marks the 10-year anniversary of the death of Trayvon Martin, which sparked the Black Lives Matter movement that was later fueled by the deaths of many others. These issues have real impact on our campus community, and we remain committed to restorative practices that will help create an environment where our students, faculty and staff can thrive.
“History has shown us that courage can be contagious, and hope can take on a life of its own.” — Michelle Obama
Jamie Parson, J.D.