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In August 1963, 250,000 people gathered in Washington D.C. in front of the Lincoln Memorial to hear Martin Luther King Jr. speak. He stepped to the podium full of microphones and spoke these words: “I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.”

Thara Saint-Surin holding the Haitian flag

This gathering comes to mind when civil rights in America is brought up, but what does King’s dream look like today on our campus? In the 1970s, February officially became Black History Month, a time to celebrate the African Americans who live in this country.

In the Winter Semester 2018, BYU-Idaho had 130 black/African American students in a student body of 21,299. In 1997, there were 15 black/African American students out of 8,277, according to BYU-I official enrollment statistics. With online classes around the world, BYU-I is becoming more diverse each semester.

Last year, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints organized a celebration called “Be One” to celebrate black Latter-day Saint history around the world and to formally recognize the 40th anniversary of black men receiving the priesthood in 1978. Gladys Knight, the Bonner Family and Alex Boye performed. Latter-day Saints from Nigeria, Ghana, Jamaica and Brazil shared their personal histories. Jane Manning James and Elijah Abel, African American pioneers who joined the Church in the 1800s represented by actors, narrated the event.

“Honestly, they should have an open mind about it,” said Thara Saint-Surin, a junior studying nursing, when considering Black History Month and how to approach it. “People ask why we need a month, but why not? We’ve been in this country for hundreds of years, sometimes not by choice. Recognizing people that are of a different race and their struggles minimizes ignorance.”

BYU hosts an annual event called “Perspectives: A Black History Month Celebration,” where students come together to share personal perspectives on black history, dance and perform in pride.

Last February, the African Heritage Association presented “Black History Month Celebration #Black Excellence,” in the Manwaring Center Little Theater. The show displayed songs, dances and fashion from the African diaspora.

Since all cultural associations have been dissolved, black students are finding new ways to gather. Off-campus clubs provide a place for students to congregate.

Black History Month gives BYU-I students a chance to reflect on what makes them proud of their history.

“My favorite part of being black is the unity that comes with it, especially here on campus,” said Shonaka Phebe, a senior studying sociology. “It’s not just that we are LDS, but we are also black, so we can bond through that because we all have experiences and we can come together and speak about them.

Black History Month was officially established in 1970 in America and is also recognized in Canada, Ireland, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Former president Gerald Ford said, “Seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

Loretta Kumire looking into the distance

“Dr. King said, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,'” said Naresha Murray, a senior studying psychology. “When you can relate to feelings of being discriminated against, you have more of an open mind, an open heart, you have more acceptance automatically when you are part of a marginalized group.”

February is a time to celebrate the contributions of black people to America’s story from its beginning.

“BYU-Idaho lacks in thinking that teaching about black history takes away inclusivity,” Phebe said. “Not acknowledging the differences is more harmful. There are people with misconceptions about black people and not acknowledging it or teaching people about it is harmful on both sides.”

Loretta Kumire, a sophomore studying communication, believes it’s about unity.

“I think it’s more about all students recognizing that there is a no us versus them, but the ideal being a more unified student body that seeks to understand other’s history and acknowledge each other’s point of view,” Kumire said. “It’s about self-reflection and seeing where each individual can reach across the stereotypes and create an ‘us’ without a ‘them.'”

Gracie Nelson, a junior majoring in international studies, shared the importance of ancestors when talking about Black History Month.

“I love my history,” Nelson said. “I am adopted. I was raised by white parents. Because of this I grew up having conflicting feelings on black history. Being black is in the experiences you face. The doubt that you defeat. I am so proud of my ancestors. I’m proud of my brothers and sisters for all that they went through. They are the reasons I am able to be in college, on my way to law school, and be free.”

Shauntanika Dalmida, a senior studying early childhood special education, discusses how history goes beyond the color of skin. 

 “My roots are deeper than the color of my skin,” said Dalmida. “It is my family’s legacy. It is my ancestor’s love and devotion and God’s will that lead me where I am today.” “My roots are deeper than the color of my skin,” said 

Naresha Murray on the left with Loretta Kumire on the right

When it comes to Black History Month at BYU-I, Dalmida suggests a showcase displaying black/African activists, inventors and heroes.

“From my experience, most people know Rosa Parks and Malcom X, but there are so many wonderful people we can help BYU-I learn about,” Dalmida said. “I believe that will allow the students to learn about our history and also unite students in a celebratory way.”

Each of the students above admires a figure in black history. For Saint-Surin, the stories of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King fascinate her, particularly in the way they led movements.

“They were fighting for the same thing, but they fought for it differently,” Saint-Surin said.

For Dalmida, the story of Rosa Parks is moving and it taught her to be strong.

“No matter if you are left standing on your own, stand for respect, stand for others,” Dalmida said. “Be a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves.”

As Dr. King finished his remarks on that crowded, historic day, he said, “Even though we face difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.”

That dream is preserved as students on campus honor Black History Month.


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