In celebration of the first day of Black History Month, Montclair State held an opening ceremony for the Black Heritage Month Celebration, which included a flag raising, various presentations and refreshments on Monday, Feb. 1.
Every year, Black Heritage Month at Montclair State has a different theme and this year’s theme is “Celebrating Champions of Challenge and Change.”
Approximately 100 students, staff and faculty gathered at the Student Center flagpole to celebrate the start of Black History Month, with representatives from various organizations on campus, the President’s Office and the University Police Department.
The President’s Office issues a proclamation on the first day of Black History Month every year and it is usually read by President Susan Cole. This year, Dr. Karen L. Pennington, Vice President of Campus Development and Student Life, read the Day of Unity Proclamation, as Cole was unavailable.
Police attended the event as color guards. Dr. Saundra Collins, a professor of Psychology who works for the African American Studies Department, attended the opening day’s events, including the flag raising, and said that “having a color guard is an honor. The police force provide a formal escort to your destination and, by doing so, they are telling us that we are all united.”
The ceremony was outdoors and included the annual libation that Sanders gave as a commemoration of Black History Month and the singing of the Black National Anthem.
The event started at noon and lasted longer than usual, until 1 p.m., and Collins gave part of that credit to the weather. Usually it’s very cold in February, which limits the time spent outside, but this year, participants got to stay outside longer and enjoy the weather.
“Montclair State’s flag-raising and opening ceremony for Black History Month [are] unique and a little different in that we have the participation of our University Police Department. They provide a color guard escort. That’s not happening on other college campuses,” said Collins.
Dr. Sandra Lewis, a psychology professor and the director of the African Students Studies Program at Montclair State, is the principal organizer of Black Heritage Month. Collins could not stress enough how vital Lewis’ role was in making this month of events come together.
“This month’s long set of events is the work of several groups. Over the last three months, we have been talking, meeting [and] creating subcommittees to work on different pieces of the program. The flag raising was the coordinators’ first opportunity to all come together,” said Lewis.
After the flag-raising ceremony, participants went to the Student Center Ballrooms for a performance, presentation and refreshments. Marsha Pierre and Emmanuel Paulino, both freshmen Dance majors, along with a dance teacher, performed “Paris/Black/Woman,” a piece that combined music, video and dance into one work of art. They then showed the movie “Heroes of Hope.”
“It’s common for black people in Paris to feel invisible in terms of their talent. They want to get out there and show the world what they can do, but the doors aren’t open for them. This dance was about showing empowerment and bringing up issues that black people face everyday. We want to showcase our talent to the world and that’s the message we were sending to the audience,” said Pierre.
The organizers of the event were happy with the turnout and are excited for the events coming up later this month. The goal of this series of events is to unite the whole campus community together.
“These events are integrated activities that represent all fashions of the campus life,” said Collins. “People understand that black history and black heritage [are] important to everyone. We cannot just give [them] to the black students and the black community and keep [them] there. [They’re] critical [parts] of American history and therefore part of all students’ experience.”