Senior Arianna Ngnomire stood confidently on the Argyros Forum stage and with little hesitation, began reading poetry to a crowd of around 20 students Feb. 4.
“Racism is no longer colored fountains or whites only; racism is killing a black boy walking home, then collectively saying ‘Oh well,’” Ngnomire, vice president of student government, read. “To be part of a species is to say my blackness is unintelligent, addicting, ratchet, pregnant, dropout, addicting, animal, lock him up, lock her up, a justified death sentence, a celebrated death sentence, a forgotten death sentence.”
The event kicked off Black History Month at Chapman, which was officially recognized in the U.S. in 1976. It marks a month of acknowledgment and celebration of the black community. Established as “Negro History Week” in the 1920s, Black History Month has evolved into the recognition of “the importance of Black history in the drama of the American story,” according to the Library of Congress’s website dedicated to Black History Month.
“Black History Month is the month of black excellence,” Ngnomire told The Panther. “It’s about what we have done historically around the world to make sure our history isn’t being erased.”
The event was meant to show how the students have shown their excellence during the year.
Describing black excellence as a “celebration of accomplishment,” Black History Month is something Ngnomire sees as crucial, because for some time, the accomplishments of black people and communities were not celebrated.
The hashtag #blackexcellence has been used almost 4 million times on Instagram. A video of black STEM students in Virginia rapping about their academic accomplishments went viral in 2016. The term “black excellence” reached an all-time high in Google searches in February 2018, and has come to be associated with typically young, black people, achieving recognition or success.
“Black History Month is to uplift black people in this country and make them feel heard,” said Lucile Henderson, BSU’s secretary. “For all of history and still today, we don’t feel like we belong.”
To celebrate Black History Month, Chapman’s Cross-Cultural Center will host a film screening of “13th,” a documentary about the prolonged and often disproportionate impacts of the prison system on black youth. On Feb. 21, BSU will host its first talent showcase in Memorial Hall.
“All the black students are invited to showcase whatever they are good at,” Henderson said. “It’s really to give a platform for the black students to shine.”
Chapman’s “I Am Chapman” portrait gallery in the hallways of Argyros Forum, designed to give exposure to underrepresented groups on campus, has shifted its focus to black students.
When Ngnomire applied to Chapman four years ago, she remembers writing about the wall in one of her application essays. Now, she’s featured.
“I was extremely excited to be showcased on the wall,” she said. “I hope in the future, more black students can be showcased throughout the year, not just during Black History Month.”
Jerry Price, dean of students, told The Panther that Chapman aims to affirm students’ identities.
“I hope that our programs during Black History Month will help us do that,” Price said. “We don’t want to fall into the trap of doing things just for Black History Month and waiting until next year.”