Summer 2020 was historic in terms of fighting for racial equality, particularly for Black communities throughout the United States, and as Black History Month continues, Black students at the University of Georgia can’t help but reflect on last summer.
Being Black and celebrating Black history can mean various things based on one’s life experiences and identity. There are many Black people in America who do not identify with the label of “African American,” but they still find a reason to celebrate throughout the month of February. For UGA freshman undecided major Faith Ebikeme, this rings especially true.
“I’m not originally from here. I’m Nigerian, so I can’t say I feel connected to [African American history] because none of my family had these experiences,” Ebikeme said. “But, everytime I’m reminded of what happened in America I feel very saddened. I try my very best to do what I can [to support African American communities] and appreciate Black culture.”
In another sense, Black History Month can be impactful for Black students who aren’t used to their culture being celebrated or who often feel like the racial minority in their daily lives. Freshman fashion merchandising major Jamila Reeves-Miller identifies as African American and appreciates this recognition of Black history and culture that is absent in environments that lack diversity.
“I’ve never not connected to Black History Month, but over the last year I’ve felt more connected because I go to a predominantly white school,” Reeves-Miller said. “It just felt like it was important for me to be in connection with my identity and who I am as a Black woman.”
The Black Lives Matter movement has provided the opportunity for many Americans to confront racial issues in the country that they previously wouldn’t have acknowledged outside of Black History Month. But for many Black Americans, the attention on these issues wasn’t especially surprising or educational — it was a recognition of a reality that they’d been forced to confront for almost their entire lives.
For freshman biochemistry major Lauren Kelly, the summer’s mass protests and media coverage felt like an opportunity for the nation to better recognize the struggles of her community. Additionally, they opened a window for her to join in making a difference.
“I knew injustice was happening, but I felt like nobody else was seeing it,” Kelly said. “Before, it felt like there was nothing really I could do. But now that the media is publishing it and people are really seeing it more, I can do my part and help people in my community to stop the injustice that's happening.”
For some, celebrating Black history in the midst of a Black historical movement has opened up the door for new perspectives and connections to the past. Over the summer, there was a lot of conversation in the media comparing the violence and riots that would ensue and other nonviolent demonstrations. Ebikeme sees this as history repeating itself.
“Martin Luther King [Jr.]’s March [on Washington] was very nice. It was a peaceful protest,” Edikeme said. “But you also have protesters like Malcolm X, with a different approach who were also effective. I feel like this summer took inspiration from that. The stories of today look very similar to the stories back then.”
Although some may see historical patterns repeat themselves today, America is a different country than it was 60 years ago. It’s not possible to solely consider past solutions when solving modern day problems, and with no immediate way to see the ultimate impact of this current movement, Black students are left to wonder: “What’s next?”
Kelly views this year’s Black History Month as an opportunity to revisit the conversation from last summer and bring a new sense of consciousness to this 28 days of celebration.
“I feel like a lot more people will appreciate the meaning behind Black History Month and not treat it as just a normal month,” Kelly said. “Maybe [people will] start protesting again or just spread even more awareness about what's happening. They can appreciate [Black history] more than they've done in the past.”
Despite having already undergone an entire civil rights movement, racism is still a major dilemma throughout the country. No one can know for sure what the lasting impacts of our modern protests will be, but reflecting on Black history shows us what is possible. As the nation takes this month to reflect on Black history, it also reflects on the history being made now.
“A lot of racism was exposed last year and I think it’s for the better,” Edikeme said. “People need to be held accountable for their actions and words. Socially, this summer made people understand privilege, responsibility and impact, but I don’t think we’re going to reach peaceful grounds for the next few years. A lot of eyes are gonna be on us [as a nation] during Black History Month.”