While February is the shortest month of the year, Belmont’s Black Student Association showed it is no less than the other months.
BSA was dedicated to giving students an eventful yet impactful Black History Month, one current BSA president Justice Dudley felt was long overdue.
“I feel that this is the first time that I have been able to kind of take control,” said Dudley. “This is the first time that I've been able to gain other information outside of, you know, just the standard.”
BSA put on several BHM events throughout February that both honored prominent black figures in America as well as informed students about social justice issues and microaggressions people of color continue to face.
Some of the events included a candlelight vigil for Tyre Nichols, BSA worship night and a popular discussion panel titled “Don’t Touch My Hair,” which opened conversations regarding the way non-Black people view Black hair and protective styles.
“We have to talk about the microaggressions, the discrimination and prejudice or any emotional damage that has come with having Black hair,” said Dudley.
BSA planned a total of eight events throughout the month.
Gary Hunter, BSA faculty adviser, remembers a time when BHM was not even celebrated at Belmont in comparison to the number of other celebrations that occurred this year.
“It was non-existent when I got here,” said Hunter. “I really have seen it progress over the last 27 years.”
Hunter and Benita Walker have been BSA advisers for over 15 years and have witnessed the drastic change in BHM celebrations.
Still in the unknown waters of the COVID-19 pandemic and with movements like Black Lives Matter gaining traction, BHM events went from being art-focused to being more social justice oriented.
Former 2021-22 BSA President Ashley Sawyers said she was in a unique transitional period when she planned BHM events.
Sawyers admires not only the number of events BSA planned but the subject matter of them. “Now with recently holding the vigil for Tyre Nichols, I think that is a beautiful and really blatant statement,” she said.
Other events such as “Black Minds Matter” ring true and important to people like Walker, who said topics regarding mental health are often not spoken about in Black households.
“You don't talk about mental health. You don't talk about that stuff. You know, just shake it off,” she said.
Each event BSA planned was intended to celebrate the excellence and importance of Black figures, and they aim to continue to push the boundaries and bring more education and more inclusivity.
Sawyers said she hopes Belmont will eventually incorporate the surrounding Belmont-Hillsboro community into their celebrations.
“Belmont exists within what was historically a Black community and I think really cherishing the origins of what the actual Belmont area really used to be,” she said. “Promoting that more with the school would be beautiful.”
From Belmont also came successful and prominent Black leaders from its own classrooms that Dudley hopes will take time to celebrate.
“Not too many people know of Fanny Hewlett, which was the first African American graduate of Belmont University. We don't know that Dr. Susan West was the first Black professional hired here,” she said.
Dudley said that highlighting these powerful leaders shows current and perspective students that campus is worth more to people of color than its heavy past.
“I wish Belmont would do more to celebrate the Black heritage and the Black accomplishments that's been made here on campus because otherwise the only thing we have to Black history here is slavery.”
Walker believes the future of celebrating BHM at Belmont looks bright with the installation of the Office of Hope, Unity and Belonging who recently announced Dr. D’Angelo Taylor as vice president.
“He’s very interested in wanting to do programming about Black history all year long, not just during February,” said Walker.
Hunter hopes that with this new leadership, Black history will be prevalent and an integral part of the Belmont college experience.
“I think we can only look ahead to better things,” said Hunter.
Black History Month has changed as Belmont has changed.
From a seemingly nonexistent celebration almost 30 years ago has grown to a month filled with education and celebration of Black lives and their impact on America.
“Something is happening on our campus right now. It's hard to miss it,” said Walker. “And to see just all the possibilities of what Belmont is striving to be is exciting.”
Looking toward the future, Belmont’s growth and trajectory toward inclusivity is anticipated to only grow and become stronger.
“I think we're in a good direction,” said Sawyers. “I think it'll be OK in the future. Fingers crossed.”
This story was written by Lilly Owens