Honoring Black History in 2022

Posted by Natasha Martin, JD, Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion on Wednesday, February 2, 2022 at 4:38 PM PST

Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that. – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Greetings Campus Community,

The Office of Diversity and Inclusion wishes Seattle University a Happy New Year as we continue to usher in 2022 and the year of the Water Tiger, a sign of courage, strength, and generosity. Last month, we recognized the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and now welcome Black History Month. We affirm our Black faculty, staff, and students whose contributions and presence enrich and make more vibrant Seattle University’s intellectual community.

Last year, I began February with an acknowledgment: . . . I am mindful of the paradox of beginning this designated celebration amid the deep polarity and tumult of our times, and wounds that only time and intention can begin to heal. This is precisely why we must honor the vast contributions of Black people, as well as face our irreconciled past. No stance toward unity can truly abide without honestly confronting the centuries-long history of anti-Black racism, white supremacy, and racial terror that define America. This is the only way toward wholeness.  [read full message here]

Despite the collective wounds of 2020 and 2021, we continue to experience the impact of these times with the gulf widening socially, culturally, and politically. The piercing realities of entrenched structural inequities and deep divides eclipse what should be our starting point – the humanity and dignity of every person. A constellation of circumstances reinforces an inflection point – the repeal of voting rights in states across the country, near hysteria at school board meetings over Critical Race Theory (a legal framework not taught in K-12 schools), book bans to prevent teaching Black history, educators threatened for speaking out, and diminished mental health crushing the spirits and resilience of so many, particularly our youth and adolescents.

Several Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) around the country began Black History Month receiving bomb threats to their campuses; harkening back to the fervor and fear of the 1960’s so prevalent in the bowels of the south toward organizations and individuals who stood for access and civil rights. This in addition to January’s news of at least 40 bills introduced around the country circumscribing institutions’ ability to determine curricula, as well as a new challenge to affirmative action policies in higher education. As we seek to create an inclusive campus where our students can discover who they are, we cannot take for granted our obligation as stewards of a more just and equitable society in educating an engaged and informed citizenry. And, that means acknowledging and celebrating a fuller historical narrative – one that undeniably reflects that Black history is American history.

Notwithstanding the many statements in support of Black lives, the dehumanizing rhetoric and exclusionary tactics translate a different set of value judgments. Thus, we must fight the temptation to accept passivity over progress (however incremental); let’s not trade marching in support of Black lives for malaise about the real work of advancing equity and rooting out bias and hate. We must move beyond performance and embrace the creative tension that comes with shifting paradigms.

There are reasons to hope, points of light that beacon a positive way forward, like our Black Student Union (BSU) whose efforts under the leadership of Black women students established the first scholarship of its kind, which is now university endowed. We are on the brink of another historic first with the anticipated nomination of a Black woman to the U.S. Supreme Court. And, over the last two years, the campus came together with intention and love, and a seeming collective conviction to do more and be better for the good of our students, including co-creating the Racial Equity Summit.  We encourage you to find ways to add more points of light this month and beyond – continue growing, celebrate Black lives, and pursue your respective paths toward deeper understanding. Lean into love – not the sentimentalist notion of love, but the love that requires honesty, openness to hard truths, and action.

Below are some opportunities to reflect, re-examine, and recommit to living into our mission of fostering inclusive academic excellence organized by campus partners. For additional events and resources, check out the updated Honoring Black History webpage, where you will find a range of educational resources, and Zoom backgrounds thanks to Marcom. Finally, if you or your unit is hosting an event, please email the details to Marquinta Obomanu, ODI Executive Coordinator, at mobomanu@seattleu.edu.

In closing, I offer this short exhortation on the power of love as a vehicle for change:

It was love that abolished slavery,

It was love that gave women suffrage,

It was love that established civil rights,

And it is love that we need now.”

– from “A Politics of Love” by Marianne Williamson

In solidarity,

Professor Natasha Martin, J.D.

Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion

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