During the month of February, Virginia Wesleyan University hosted both in-person and virtual Black History month events to honor revolutionary Black individuals, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Organizations on-campus like the nine sororities and fraternities, Off The Hook, Black Student Union and others collaborated to provide a memorable Black History month.
The Robert Nusbaum Center hosted a virtual event titled “Norfolk 17” and highlighted a different African-American leader every Tuesday. Norfolk 17 was about the seventeen young black students that on Feb. 2, 1969 were integrated into a former all-white school. These individuals were assaulted and abused by students, teachers and the police officers who were supposed to be protecting them.
Virginia Wesleyan University does have an active Black Student Union, and their Head of Public Relations, Jordan Gilliam said that “this group is meant for all students to be able to feel safe and also learn about culture and information.” Gilliam mentioned that for the month of February they were trying to showcase Black excellence in each of their events.
COVID-19 placed restrictions on the organization, but there were events hosted in-person such as the “Still I Rise poetry slam.” This slam was hosted as an open event to everyone so that they may speak their minds.
The Black Student Union also hosted their traditional soul food dinner via Sodexo on campus. The dinner consisted of green beans, fried chicken and gravy on mashed potatoes.
There was a lot happening on social media for Black History Month because of the COVID-19 restrictions. Off The Hook posted every day under the guidance of Nailah Alston-Iszard, a senior supervisor for Off the Hook. The three most liked posts on the Off the Hook Instagram were about Breonna Taylor with 41 likes, Vice President Kamala Harris with 31 likes, and Chadwick Boseman with 25 likes. Alston-Iszard believes that the posts were relevant because they provide vital information and dates that are important to know.
“I felt… as an event supervisor for Off The Hook, [we] played a huge role in control over what Black History Month would look like [on-campus]. Melina [Cabral] helped me with tabling for Paint by Number, Matt [Hardy] helped me with the posters, and my Bosses Sarah [Guzzo] and Alaira [Groomes] made all of these great events possible. Surprisingly, making everything virtual/hybrid was really no issue at all. As a student, we still can play a big part in cultural representation by participating in student organizations and their events,” said Alston-Iszard.
Alston-Iszard hosted and created a periodic table and believes that it was the most important event for the month of February because “I worked so hard on it and so many people really enjoy it. Even coloring the pages, I learned so much about so many people that I didn’t even know existed. It made me realize how little we learned about our own cultures in public schools. All of the elements are historical black figures color coded into different categories of influence, with a QR code that you can scan using your mobile device to find out more about the individual,” said Alston-Iszard
Some of the other organizations that contributed to Black History month on social media were Kappa Alpha Psi, National Alliance on Mental Illness, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Marlin Republicans and Marlin Democrats. Kappa Alpha Psi’s post about Colin Kaepernick, a former quarterback in the NFL, stands against injustice and is a SPR 10 initiative of the Kappa Alphas. Maxine Waters, a female Black California Representative, is favored by the Marlins Democrats on their Instagram page.
On the other side of the political spectrum, the Marlin Republicans posted about Dr. Ben Carson. Dr. Ben Carson was a 2016 Presidential candidate, the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at John Hopkins Children’s Center, a best selling author, a Presidential Medal of Honor recipient, and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
Some of AKA’s posts were about significant names like Catherine Hughes, Alicia Keys, and Alice Walker. NAMI posted about Ruby Nell Bridges Hall, who was the first African American child to desegregate an all-white school in Louisiana.
Despite the many COVID-19 restrictions, Virginia Wesleyan University and its many diverse clubs and organizations were able to showcase many important Black historical figures and preserve the idea of Black excellence through each and every one of their planned events, whether they were virtual or in-person.
By Isaac Guzman