Black History Month: Turning Vision into Reality

Empowerment, collaboration and helping students realize their own vision were the primary goals this year in planning Black History Month events, which included a dynamic series of student, alumni and faculty voices, speakers from across the Hopkins community, a film series, a showcase, and more. 

The Office of Equity and Community (OEC) worked with student leaders and members of the Black and LatinX Student Union (BLSU); Students United for Racial Equity (SURE), and the Diversity Board (DivBo) to help develop a plan, but took a light-handed approach overall, said OEC Director, Becky Harper ’07. Her team aided students with the organizational aspects of planning, such as scheduling meetings and putting together a calendar, but let them take the lead in creating and executing their own vision, stepping in as a support and guide when needed. 

“As adults in this process,” added OEC Associate Director, Dante Brito, “we were very conscious in allowing the kids to do what they wanted and helping them turn their ideas into reality. The goal was to give them more responsibility, and also the confidence that they can accomplish things without direct instruction.” The OEC team also focused very intentionally on allowing student voices to be heard, something that Dante said is particularly important to those students who haven’t always had a voice or the power to affect change. “We want (the students) feeling like they are able to have an impact, make change and not accept things as they are simply because that is how things have always been.”

Ranease Brown '21, a co-Head of the DivBo, said she appreciated the leadership role given to students. “I have worked on the past two Black History Month calendars and have participated in all six that I’ve been here for,” she said. “This was my favorite one, because I felt more of a connection to the work I was doing. I felt more included. The faculty gave us full leadership and said, ‘we're here for whatever you need, but this is your time’.”  

Collaboration across the school community -- including students, faculty and alumni -- was a major part of the planning process. “It was a team effort, and part of what makes the month so special is building community and leaning on each other,” said Ranease. Hopkins alumna, Donasia Gray '18, who is serving as an OEC Fellow this year, helped students with many of the organizational tasks. Faculty member and Hopkins Archivist, Thom Peters, lent a hand with research. Any and all students who expressed interest were welcome to participate, whether or not they were members of SURE, BLSU, or DivBo.

“Everyone involved did their part and we were able to pull off something that has never been done before in a matter of weeks: a fully virtual Black History Month celebration that seemed almost impossible when we started brainstorming in November,” added BLSU co-Head, Milan Yorke ’21. “To see it all come to fruition is the best feeling, and as a student, knowing that you were the backbone of the operation makes the event even more special.”

Instead of using outside speakers, this year’s program was centered on the Hopkins community. “We knew that we wanted this year to be a bit more Hopkins-centric,” said Jasmine Simmons ’21, co-Head of SURE. “We also wanted to make sure that we addressed modern triumphs and issues within the African American community that were applicable to our lives now, as well as celebrating and honoring the past.” 

“When someone you see almost every day comes out and shares something you never knew before, it makes you step back and reevaluate what's really going on,” added BLSU co-Head, Anajah Williams ’21. “We are providing a new perspective or side of faculty, students and alumni that most people on campus have never seen.”

Hopkins parent, Dr. Khalilah Brown-Dean, spoke about voting rights; Jasmine Simmons ’21 gave a presentation exploring the racism inherent in U.S. Healthcare; and a “Real TalkX” series featured students, faculty and alumni sharing personal life experiences. Additional elements included dedicated assemblies with student and faculty speakers, a carefully curated film series appropriate for all grades that provided further opportunities for learning and discussion, a Black History Month trivia game and, wrapping it all up, a student showcase. 

“We pushed for more representation, more songs, more movies, and more speakers that represent our culture,” added Ranease. “We didn’t want to just venture into the past and only name the people who have gotten us where we are today, but we wanted to celebrate those who are in the present. Members of our community are making history just by attending and working at Hopkins. We are in leadership positions, leading our peers, creating events, and doing it out of passion. We have a drive to be heard, a longing to be known, and a hope to be celebrated.”