IME, BSU host Black History Month festivities

Photo of Black alumni panel
Courtesy of IME

This February, Lewis & Clark saw a wide variety of events in celebration of Black History Month put on by the Office of Inclusion and Multicultural Engagement (IME), the Black Student Union (BSU) and a selected planning committee.

Cole Whitaker ’25, one of the leaders of the BSU, explained some of the intentions the collaborators had in mind during the planning process.

“We really wanted to be a lot more intentional about our programming … and find a way to inject more meaning into the regular everyday experience here at LC and Black History Month. The ground zero for educating people about Black history would be the perfect opportunity to do so,” Whitaker said. “It’s been a little bit of a journey so far, primarily because of the fact that we started very small. We amassed so much momentum going into the ’23 – ’24 school year, the point where now it’s like something every single week, it’s just nonstop event after event.” 

Dr. Joslyn Armstrong, an assistant professor at the graduate school’s Marriage, Couple and Family Therapy program and an advisor to the BSU, reflected on the scope of the events.

“The events for this month are bigger, much more diverse in a variety of things that we offer. There’s a plethora of events that folks can attend (on) any number of different topics and interests and experiences connected to the Black experience,” Armstrong said. 

These events included a “Black Joy: Friends, Lovers & Other Relationships in IME Suite” activity on healthy relationships, a Portland Art Museum and lunch field trip to see the Black Artists of Oregon exhibit and a dinner for students, staff, faculty and alumni panelists. There were also lectures and presentations, such as Kenneth Andrews’ Lessons of the Civil Rights Movement & Black Freedom Struggle, an endowed lecture at the Law School from attorney Ben Crump on Martin Luther King Jr. and a Career Transitions & Pivots panel from the Black Alumni Association & Student Alumni Association.

Armstrong’s favorite event that she attended was the Black History Month dinner. 

“It was for all Black students, faculty and staff. We actually had an alumni panel (where) over various years of former Black alumni come and share their experiences. The theme was ‘Beyond the Academy.’ So share some of their experiences while at Lewis & Clark at the time, and then how do they essentially sustain themselves? And what tools have they utilized in their career options? And where are they now?” Armstrong said. “It was like a bridge between all three campuses, for everybody to come together in a space. It felt very uplifting, encouraging.”

While not part of the programming for February, Whitaker highlighted last spring’s Black graduation as his favorite BSU event.

“It was a very emotional moment for a lot of us because it was all these seniors who I had become friends with, a lot of them through basketball. They came in during the COVID years with basically little to no support. So to see them then be able to become friends with not only one another, but myself and a lot of the underclassmen as well, and then have this moment where they’re just all individually celebrated,” Whitaker said. 

He commented on the impact that this celebration had.

“I did these little intros for every single senior last year,” Whitaker said, “shouting out everybody’s individual characteristics and really just trying to make them appreciate it. They had told me that they hadn’t had anything like that this entire time that they’ve been at school.”

Over recent years, the BSU has increased their programming and grown rapidly.

“The prior years, like when I was a freshman, we, all the leaders, were very busy. We didn’t really have a lot of programming. We had maybe one or two (events) a year, but it was pretty slow moving overall,” Whitaker said. “Then going into my sophomore year, where I was appointed co-president, we started to kind of ramp it up and do weekly gatherings.”

Whitaker outlined the buildup last year all the way to this year’s Black History Month.

“The thing that I wanted to do in my mind was just make it so that everything is memorable. And so that’s what kind of kicked off that month and a half of just an event every single week, building up all the way to graduation. And then going into this year, it was the same thing … I think that the alumni especially saw everything that we were doing and saw how much momentum that we had amassed,” he said.

Whitaker also noted how much time and money these events take, emphasizing the support of Associated Student Body and alumni as their endeavors have expanded.

“It’s trust and faith in the community overall that’s led us to this point,” Whitaker said.

Armstrong joined the planning committee in December, but preparations had been going on since October. She elaborated on her role in designing the events for Black History Month in collaboration with student leaders. 

“It was a more student-led committee, which I was initially surprised at … Everybody had such a wide variety of ideas and it’s really been nice to see that most of those ideas have come to fruition,” Armstrong said. “I kind of sit back, if you will, and let the ideas flow. I may offer some other suggestions, things to think about. And then also maybe push any connections that I have in the community forward. But for the most part, I’m there to kind of support students, visions and their ideas, trying to see if we can narrow down, make it realistic for the resources and the labor that’s available to us.”

Whitaker spoke to how valued this support and guidance is.

“We’re just very grateful for them, obviously, because none of this would have gotten done without them,” Whitaker said. “This is going to be something that just keeps getting steadily built up over the years and I’m happy they’re on board. Dr. Armstrong has been a huge part of planning for Black History Month. Dr. Stacy Thompson is going to be a huge part of planning Black graduation for 2024 as well.”

Dr. Stacy Thompson ’79 is the President of the Board of Alumni as well as a trustee, and in her time at LC she founded an earlier iteration of the BSU. Her continued contributions to Black students at LC include assisting in the organization of the BSU’s Black Graduation ceremony.

Director of IME Joann Zhang was another key person involved in this year’s Black History Month events.

“Our hope through planning committees is to bring together interested students, staff, faculty and student organizations/unions to collaborate on how we want to acknowledge, learn and celebrate together,” Zhang said. “My role is to help our student staff lead those meetings and assist with logistics.”

She drew attention to one of the new events they put on this month. 

“I am excited for our On the Hill:    Black Marketplace, our first attempt at hosting a vendor fair featuring our very own students and external vendors,” she said.

The marketplace occurred in Stamm Dining Hall on Feb. 24 and featured a variety of Black artists and small businesses. Booths sold crocheted items, greeting cards, paintings, t-shirts, beauty products, waist beads and other jewelry, clothes and even hot sauce. There were also tables set up with food samples for people to try as they milled around.

“(It) is a place for all these Black-owned businesses to reach a different customer base that they may not have reached before, and to expose other students to other Black-owned businesses in Portland,” Armstrong said. “There’s going to be live music, there’s going to be a food tasting, there’s going to be an area where you can actually play like board games and card games. Building community beyond just learning like what’s (in) the Lewis & Clark campus community, but seeing what’s in the broader community.”

Armstrong pointed out Whitaker’s role in planning the marketplace.

“Cole, who is one of the presidents of BSU, had the idea of giving the historical value of the Black stock market and how revolutionary that was back in Tulsa, Oklahoma, before the fires, and before that town was completely destroyed. There was a thriving Black community and economy there,” she said. “The Black marketplace idea stemmed from that revelation and honoring of that historical event and moment within Black history.”

She also highlighted an event that she found especially impactful from her perspective as a therapist.

“There’s another event that was put on around Valentine’s Day which was on looking at relationships and love for Black folks, so like romantic relationships, friendships, family relationships. Being a Marriage, Couple and Family therapist myself and working in the Marriage, Couple and Family Therapy program in the graduate campus, it was nice to see an event kind of centered around relationships and love. I think they were making gratitude statements and having a discussion about that, so I thought that was really cool as well,” Armstrong said.

Although Black History Month has come to a close, events will still be continuing throughout the year.

“While it’s important to celebrate Black History Month, our month of celebrating and learning does not conclude at the end of the month. We will continue to support, celebrate and learn throughout the year, so events and opportunities will continue beyond February,” Zhang said.

Armstrong reflected on the influence of these events on Black students at LC.

“With as many events that we’ve put on this month, I do think that it shows that Lewis & Clark is open to student input, and having student-led events that can be successful. I think the core message for Black students is that you matter, you’re important and we see you. We want to offer support in any way we can. These events are further affirming of your Blackness and affirming that there is community here. It may be difficult at first to find it. But once you tap in, it’s really an edifying experience, an uplifting experience.”

Keep an eye out for upcoming events from BSU and make sure to follow the BSU and IME on Instagram: @lclarkbsu and @ime_lc. 

“Shout out to Cole, Isha, Kai, Ashwini, Deriontae, Blessing, Alvin, Jaime, Dr. Armstrong,” Zhang said. “Thank you for your dedication and support!”

Additional reporting by Amelia Doyle.

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