February is Black History Month, a time to celebrate and learn about the vast historical milestones of blacks around the world. From Jackie Robinson to Maya Angelou, this particular month celebrates both people and events that illustrate just how important it is to promote the education of significant black historical figures who have influenced today’s society.
From a more local point of view, February is a time for the people of Ithaca to commemorate the different cultures spread across the town, as well as within Ithaca College. Promoting both diversity and a communal education, “Ithacans” gathered to create a broad celebration of the different features of black culture.
Ithaca College’s African Latino Society (ALS) held a string of events throughout the month to promote said education on campus, each focusing on a different theme regarding black history and/or current political, social and cultural issues related to race and ethnicity. The events ranged from a screening and discussion of the film Brown Sugar, to lectures on selected topics.
One of the ALS events featured hip hop entrepreneur Wes Jackson, creator of the Brooklyn Bodega and the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival. Jackson presented a lecture entitled “Hip Hop 101”, in which he discussed the historical and cultural aspects of hip hop music, as well as its influence on the pop culture of American society.
Jackson emphasized the importance of the first black DJs and lyricists of the late 70s and early 80s, discussing the major influences that musicians such as Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa, and Ice Cube had on the development of hip hop music as well as the culture that goes along with it.
“You tell me I can’t do it, so I’m gonna do it–that’s the spirit of hip hop,” he said.
Perhaps one of the most influential black musicians in history, however, is Bob Marley. In honor of the reggae singer/songwriter, the town of Ithaca held a special One Love event at the Southside Community Center. The festival included guest speaker Dr. Locksley Edmondson, professor of African and Caribbean culture at Cornell’s Africana Center.
“I think it’s very pleasing to see in Ithaca that here in the middle of the winter, they decided to draw on the memory and spirit of an important Pan-African cultural icon, the late Bob Marley, and to celebrate him here,” he said. “I was surprised, but pleasantly surprised, to get the invitation [to speak] and to know that there are people that still want to listen to his music.”
But the key element of Black History Month that most people tend to shy away from is learning to talk about the not so happy things that occurred–and are still occurring–throughout history.
Dr. Paula Ioanide, professor at the Center for the Study of Culture, Race and Ethnicity here at Ithaca College, held a lecture this past week on the topic of black genocide. The lecture, held in a discussion-based setting, covered the historical meaning of black genocide as well as the current epidemic of police brutality directed toward black and latino minority groups.
“We need to talk about it for historical reasons and understanding the origins of where this violence kinda comes from, what its earlier forms look like, and also because it’s very much a present…reality in the lives of many many people,” she said. “It’s also a national issue.”
As we near the end of Black History Month, the topic of race and ethnicity should retain in the minds of young and old people alike. February isn’t the only month we should be discussing these issues–we should aim for a Black History Year instead. Communal events like the ones held in Ithaca truly show the bond that talking about culture can create for people of different backgrounds. In the words of Bob Marley, ““One love, one heart, one destiny.”