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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

May 28, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

Life & Culture

Empowerment explored with Black History Month events

Throughout February, organizations at Ithaca College will host events to celebrate Black History Month. With the theme of “Empowered by: Black History Month,” RahK Lash, assistant director for the Office of Student Engagement and Multicultural Affairs, said he tried to plan events that would go more in depth on the discussion of black history.

“I didn’t want to do anything that would be the traditional kind of harmonious messages,” Lash said. “We tend to get the Disney-fied messages in K through 12. I really wanted to get messages that would explore Black History Month a little deeper and have the opportunity to have thought provoking dialogue and conversation.”

In order to have that conversation, OSEMA; the African Student Association; the African-Latino Society; the IC Step Team; the Center for the Study of Culture, Race and Ethnicity; Office of Career Services; and the Center for LGBT Education, Outreach and Services are hosting nine events to discuss history, acceptance and intersectionality. The celebration kicks off with a screening of “The Black Power Mixtape” on Feb. 1 and concludes with a workshop and student showcase titled “Reclaiming Blackness” on Feb. 28.

“All of them are different and unique,” Lash said. “We kick off on Monday with ‘The Black Power Mixtape,’ and that is a powerful, dynamic film, and we have a great panel discussion set up. I’m looking forward to what the audience is going to contribute.”

The day after the first screening of “The Black Power Mixtape,” the Center for LGBT Education, Outreach and Services is screening “We Came to Sweat.” The film covers The Starlite Lounge, a nondiscriminating bar in Brooklyn. Luca Maurer, program director for the center, helped to pick the film.

“It’s a really interesting piece that goes back before Stonewall, before what many people think of how the gay rights movements started,” Maurer said. “I’m really excited to bring it here because it is uniquely about the experiences of African-American gay and lesbian folks. So it has a historical viewpoint on things.”

Maurer said he hopes that the film makes viewers want to form a more inclusive campus environment.

“People who experience multiple marginalization are people that are experiencing multiple forms of oppression, multiple forms of aggression,” Maurer said. “They’re in — sort of in double, triple jeopardy. It’s something I want the film series to help folks who haven’t thought in these ways to sort of apprehend and understand that. I want folks to have the conversations toward everyone being fully included.”

Juniors Camille Christian and Mariel Marshall, Leaders of IC Step, said they hope their “Step Fest” event creates an inclusive environment. The group has been planning this event since the spring of 2015, and it will feature movements inspired by African Boot dance Feb. 26.

“Many people are interested in step but don’t know the history,” Marshall said. “It was Camille’s idea to have a Step Fest not only to display our talents but demonstrate the history behind it. There may be a better understanding of why we do what we do, the meaning behind it and why it’s important for us to be united.”

In terms of uniting, on Feb. 3 the African Students Association is hosting “Embracing Pan-Africa,” an event that will discuss black identity globally. ASA co-president senior Rita Bunatal said in her four years at the college, this is the first time ASA has hosted an event during Black History Month.

“Now we’re implying Africa in the conversation of Black History Month,” Bunatal said. “What does it mean to be black? What does it mean to be black in the U.S.? What does it mean to be black in the Caribbean? What does it mean to be black in South America? And all of these have different meanings, and we need to look at it from that and have a global perspective.”

Bunatal said she and other student leaders in ASA hope their event encourages dialogue, conversation and education.

“A lot of people don’t know what Pan-Africanism means,” Bunatal said. “We want the true Africa in the conversation — not a fictionalized Africa, not a romanticized Africa, not a stereotypical Africa. We’re hoping that people show up. The more people we have, the more conversation we have.”

As far as having conversations, Maurer said he thinks the no confidence movements and the protests from the fall of 2015 may work to increase attendance to the Black History Month events.

“I hope people come to all the films because they’re tremendous,” Maurer said. “If for some people, the reason they’re coming is because they’re paying a little bit more attention to what’s going on on our campus and what’s going on in our society, that’s great.”

Although Maurer seems optimistic to this idea, Lash said he doesn’t believe the events and protests from the fall will lead to an increase in participation and attendance.

“Just based on my experience, I know that typically the ones who show up are the students who have a deep investment with what’s going on — and it’s for any program, for any cultural theme month, for any opportunity that we offer,” Lash said. “You can’t make someone give a damn. You can present the opportunity, you can lead the horse to the water, but you can’t force the head under there. For some people, I don’t think anything is going to change. But that doesn’t change the fact that we’re still offering opportunities.”

Elena Piech can be reached at epiech@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @elepiech