Campus Community

Reflections on Black History Month

February 2, 2024

A colorful graphic celebrating BHM

SU colleagues share personal stories and profound moments of what the month means to them.  

As we celebrate Black History Month this February, Seattle University honors the achievements, resilience and cultural richness of the Black community. Here is the message sent to the campus community from President Eduardo Peñalver and Vice President Natasha Martin, JD, reflecting on Black History Month: 

This month offers a time for reflection and recognition of their significant contributions throughout history, in ways that are foundational to who we are. 

Black History Month also provides an opportunity to acknowledge the dark history of enslavement of a broad diaspora of Black people, the current manifestations of the painful reality of systemic racism and our collective responsibility to dismantle it and promote a more just and inclusive future. 

In line with our LIFT SU principles, and in support of our commitment to pursuing inclusive excellence, we recognize that fostering inclusion means amplifying voices from a variety of perspectives. We have invited two of our colleagues to share their reflections on what Black History Month means to them. We offer deep gratitude to Director of Career Engagement Carol Lwali and Assistant Professor of Communication and Media Dr. Victor D’Shawn Evans for sharing their stories and perspectives. 

Carol Lwali
Director, Career Engagement 

Story Time…

I’m not sure what people know about the “Airlift to America,” a movement initiated by the Kenyan freedom fighter, Tom Mboya. This movement aimed to bring African students to the U.S. for their college education at various institutions across North America.

Mboya envisioned a liberated Africa with well-educated nation-builders. However, many Africans faced obstacles to higher education due to limited access imposed by colonizers. Challenges included financial constraints, housing, everyday living expenses and the daunting task of air travel. Furthermore, it was a near impossibility to obtain visas under colonized Kenya.

In collaboration with figures like Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, Jackie Robinson, William X Scheinman, and others in the civil rights movement, the African American Students Foundation was established, marking the beginning of the “Airlift to America.” Between 1959 and 1963, 779 East African students, including Barack Obama Sr. and Nobel Peace Laureate Wangari Maathai, were brought to the U.S. through this initiative. Notably, Wangari Maathai, one of my heroes, went on to become the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree.

Harry Belafonte witnessed Kenya’s Independence Day celebration in 1963, where Prince Phillip, representing the British monarchy, lowered the Union Jack flag, and the Kenyan flag was raised.

As a Kenyan in the diaspora, working in higher education, reflecting on Black History Month holds profound significance. It goes beyond remembering the struggles of the Black Americans—it’s a celebration of triumphs and pride in the achievements of Black leaders, trailblazers and all Black people. Even in their own struggle, Black civil rights leaders were also invested in the liberation of others. They were never going to know my name. Yet here I am, because of them.

The erosion of such historical narratives from our schools today alarms and saddens me. It is now our responsibility, those who have benefited from the liberation struggle, to honor it and steadfastly ensure access to higher education while fostering a sense of community among students and colleagues.

So, in the face of ongoing attempts to erase Black history, let us, as students, staff and faculty, reaffirm our commitment to preserving and sharing these crucial narratives. Let’s stand united in ensuring that Black history remains integral to our educational discourse. Together, let’s actively champion diversity and inclusion in a way that honors the past and inspires future generations.

This reflection is dedicated to my grandmother, Naomi Kamuyu Ngenyi, who passed away in 2023 at age 102.

Victor D’Shawn Evans, PhD
Assistant Professor, Communication and Media  

As a Black queer man, I contend with a kaleidoscope of emotions during Black History Month. I appreciate the stories of Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and Ida B. Wells, all trailblazers who carved paths through perilous storms with their courage and conviction. They dared to dream of equality in the face of unimaginable oppression and their fire of resistance ignites my own.

But even during this time of remembrance and celebration of civil rights, there are still lingering shadows, reminding me of the complexities within the Black community itself. There have been times when, as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, the embrace of Black History Month hasn’t felt fully inclusive. The echoes of Bayard Rustin’s erasure from the movement’s front line due to his sexuality still resonate painfully. Even the distinguished Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. couldn’t shield him from the community’s bigotry.

Yet, amid these tensions, hope glimmers. The recent release of Rustin—the biographical drama about his life—sparks a sense of vindication of a long-overdue recognition. Finally, this zealous revolutionary, whose strategic genius helped shape the March on Washington, is getting the spotlight he deserves.

This Black History Month, I hold onto that flicker of hope. I celebrate the triumphs and acknowledge the struggles, both internal and external. I believe, as Bayard Rustin so vehemently stated, “We are all one. And if we don’t know it, we will learn it the hard way.” His call resonates, urging us to build a chorus of voices, not a cacophony.

So, with the vibrant tapestry of Black history as my backdrop, I wish you all a happy Black History Month. May we march hand-in-hand, honoring the past, embracing diversity and paving the way for a future where true equality becomes a shared rhythm, no longer a solitary drumbeat.

“We have to create a world where everyone can thrive, not just survive.” —Bayard Rustin 


At the university’s recent commemoration of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, Dr. Robin D.G. Kelley reminded us of Dr. King’s global vision of justice. As we honor Black History Month, may our interdependence drive us toward deeper understanding of and appreciation for the Black community’s profound impact and the ongoing struggles for liberation worldwide as we recommit to co-creating a welcoming and inclusive experience for all. 

Eduardo M. Peñalver, President  
Natasha Martin, Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion 

Resources and Renewal to Inclusion

To show support throughout Black History Month, visit the Office of Diversity and Inclusion to find educational resources, inspiring Zoom backgrounds and more.