Honoring Black History Month

Posted by Office of Diversity and Inclusion on Wednesday, February 1, 2023 at 8:56 AM PST

Dear Campus Community,  

As we welcome the beginning of Black History Month, Seattle University affirms and celebrates the rich, vibrant, and diverse diaspora that is the Black community. Black History Month offers us an opportunity to not only reflect on the historical and continued injustice and inequity placed on the Black community, but also to celebrate and honor its excellence, beauty, joy, and ingenuity. To our Black students, faculty, staff, administrators, and alumni – we see you, and we appreciate all you bring to our university and the larger community.

As the recent events in Memphis remind us, we must not forget how the structures on which our society is built continue to perpetuate and enable historical and ongoing oppression. We must acknowledge the racism and violence targeted at the Black community, whether in the form of hate crimes or in acts of police brutality. And we must remember that the racial lines that divide us from one another, and enduring anti-black racism in particular, originate in a shared failure to recognize the full humanity of others.

As a university, we have the important responsibility to educate about the hard truths of the past to bring forth a more hope-filled future. As we continue to fight against anti-blackness and systemic racism, including violence targeted at the Black community, we must look backward and forward. One recent expression of holding these dual truths is the blessing and installation of 10:22am in the Chapel of St. Ignatius – a painting by local artist Hiawatha D. that honors the lives of four little Black girls killed in the 1963 racially-motivated bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The painting and its installation are a living testament to our shared history and the power of education in our Jesuit and Catholic tradition, offering a path toward deeper understanding, healing, and reconciliation. 

Fostering inclusion means amplifying voices from a variety of perspectives. We have invited two of our colleagues to share their stories and reflections on what Black History Month means to them. In line with our LIFT SU principles, we believe that hearing and affirming the diverse experiences among us offers a path toward solidarity and a common purpose. We offer deep gratitude to Alex Booker, Campus Minister for Religious Diversity, and Dean Cynthia Dillard, the leader of our College of Education, for sharing their stories and perspectives, and trust that you will receive their words with openness. 

Alex Booker 
Campus Minister for Religious Diversity 

Black History month is multivalent for me. On one hand I enjoy the focus on contributions of Black people across the globe in spite of the ever-present reality of anti-Black racism. As James Weldon Johnson says, “We have come over a way that with tears have been watered, we have come treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered” and we should be proud of not only the fact that we have survived, but in many cases, we are thriving.  

On the other hand, I despise the way in which the powers-that-be have used symbolic gestures like honoring Black History Month, Juneteenth, and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Day as recompense for the material pains and losses that Black people continue to suffer through since being brought to this foreign land.  

So, with this tension I say, Happy Black History Month. As we celebrate the beauty that is the full African diaspora that has been produced in this country and across the globe, I implore us to stay vigilant and energized in our fight for justice that is ongoing and as needed as it has always been. 

Dean Cynthia Dillard 
Dean of the College of Education 

How do I lead and mentor? By looking back. By engaging what the Akan people of Ghana call “Sankofa,” turning my full self towards the past to bring forward what I need in the present. But I also Sankofa to create and build spaces today that center the ways of being and knowing of Black people and others that has been ignored and excluded: We are the ones who can heal this world, including our education. 

As Dean of the College of Education at Seattle University, my entire life has prepared me for this moment. At this innovative, progressive, Jesuit university, our mission is forming the whole person – body, mind and spirit – in service of justice. As Dean, I see (re)membering this mission as the spirit of our work in our College, the critical work of preparing teachers, counselors, school leaders and other educational professionals who are guided by this spirit of justice. I am blessed to build with talented faculty, staff and students at SU – and to (re)turn here to Seattle where I grew up. This homecoming has been the sacred full circle moment that I wish for everyone:  A (re)turn to a place firmly centered in who I am and whose I am, as a Black woman of the world, a Black feminist scholar in education, and a teacher of Black history, culture and knowledge. I do this because it fills my cup so that I can be free and can teach others how to be free, too. 

Resources and Renewal to Inclusion 

Please visit the Office of Diversity and Inclusion website to view a range of Black community educational resources, as well as Zoom backgrounds to use to support and celebrate Black History Month.  In addition, we have listed a variety of community events designed to create opportunities to deepen our understanding and grow knowledge. Please also note that our law school is hosting a Teach In on Racist Police Brutality today at 4:00 p.m. in Sullivan Hall, room 110. If your school, college, or unit has planned an event and would like to include it in this list, please send details to inclusion@seattleu.edu.

Writer James Baldwin stated – “History is not the past, it is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history.” As Black history is American history, this month and beyond, let us embody a fuller sense of history in our actions; recommit to a new reality informed by the hard and beautiful truths of our shared history; and reframe narratives that reflect the contributions and sacrifices of those in the Black community. Let us continue together to work towards creating a university and world that are fueled by the power of our differences.  


Eduardo M. Peñalver, President  

Natasha Martin, Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion