By Dominique Mack
Students and faculty gathered to commemorate the history and achievements of African-Americans at FAMU’s annual Black History Month Convocation Feb. 15 in Gaither Gymnasium.
William Guzman, Ph.D., a professor of African-American studies, began the event by delivering the occasion, followed by Tonnette Graham, president of the Student Government Association, who introduced Rahiel Tesfamariam, keynote speaker for the evening.
Tesfamariam is a social activist, writer, and public theologian. She is also the founder and publisher of Urban Cusp, an online magazine that promotes the progression of urban culture.
During her speech she frequently mentioned the word “validation,” and explained that African- Americans are forced to work twice as hard in order to prove their legitimacy. She further elaborated on her belief that there is no room for Blacks to be average.
“There is no such thing as being mediocre” said Tesfamariam. “There is no such thing as bringing half of yourself or a little bit of yourself; you have to bring all of yourself and then some,” she added.
The young activist, who earned degrees from both Stanford and Yale universities, spoke about her experience as an African-American student attending Ivy League schools. She reminded students that she too understands the struggle of being a black student in America. She explained that while attending the two prominent schools she often had to prove herself to her white counterparts. At the time she viewed her blackness as a “burden,” and blamed it on numerous adversities.
Tesfamariam admitted to seeking a therapist while in school. It was her way of facing her problems instead of acting as if they didn’t exist. She called therapy a “taboo” for many, but urged students to seek help if necessary.
“I ask that you talk to people, seek help and do whatever you have to do to ensure that whatever burden doesn’t get to heavy, or to the point that you can’t carry it anymore,” Tesfamariam said.
FAMU alumnus and Microsoft Board Chairman John W. Thompson also addressed the audience that evening by delivering the greetings.
Thompson explained that when he graduated from FAMU’s School of Business in 1971, there was no such thing as Black History Month. In turn, he urged students to embrace their culture and celebrate their history.
“Much has changed in our nation when it comes to those who celebrate African-American history. Quite frankly, much has happened in the past 30 or 40 years,” Thompson said.
African-Americans have celebrated Black History annually since 1926, when historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African-Americans first introduced “Negro History Week.” It promoted the celebration of African-American achievements as well as other individuals of African descent.
It was celebrated the second week in February to coincide with the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln and Fredrick Douglass. The expansion of Black History Week to Black History Month wasn’t proposed until 1969. In 1976, President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month.
Today Black History Month is celebrated in several countries around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom.