January 27, 2021
The 2021 Afrikan Heritage Month series of virtual events at Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY) kicks off with an opening ceremony celebration on February 3. Workshops, performances and speakers continue through February 24 in a program that is both timely and inspiring.
“In considering the theme for Afrikan Heritage Month 2021, one word continued to come up with the committee – ‘awakening,’” says Dean of Institutional Effectiveness and Strategic Planning Christopher Shults, who serves as Chair of the Afrikan Heritage Month planning committee.
Over the past year, Dean Shults says, “The United States has undergone an awakening regarding life as a Black or Brown person living in America. Waking up to the disproportionate health and financial impacts of the pandemic on Black and Brown peoples. Waking up to the realization of systematic racism and injustice and institutionalized mechanisms of oppression. With awakening comes reckoning and the programming this year will highlight these issues while also celebrating the beauty of the Afrikan diaspora.”
Committee reclaims the spelling of “Afrikan”
Alongside the theme of “awakening,” the etymology of one word — and the choice to use “Afrikan,” not “African” — resonates throughout the month’s events.
After considering how the spelling of the word evolved, the planning committee made a group decision to use “Afrikan” for the month.
“The reason is that Afrika with a ‘k’ is more in alignment with how it is pronounced, but the ‘k’ was replaced with a ‘c’ during colonization,” explains Dean Shults. “By reasserting the ‘k’, there is a reclamation of the name and it goes along with the theme of awakening and reckoning. This will be discussed at different times and different events during the month. It’s not wrong to use the ‘c’, but our committee felt it was important to reassert the ‘k’.”
The month’s events reflect modern historical context
Professor Shenique Davis— who teaches in the Social Sciences, Human Services and Criminal Justice Department and is a member of the BMCC Race, Equity, and Inclusion Steering Committee — puts the 2021 Afrikan Heritage Month in modern historical context.
“At this moment, our nation and the world are slowly waking up to hear the calls challenging the United States’ longstanding legacy of racism, inherent and embedded in our policies, practices, customs and cultural norms,” she says.
She goes further into the moment: “It is said that we are walking into a period of collective reckoning, where ‘we’ are forced to confront our history.”
As a reference, Professor Davis cites National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman, who recited her own work at the 2021 Presidential Inauguration: ‘We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace, / and the norms and notions / of what just is / isn’t always just-ice.’”
“Our hope is that every day, we celebrate the strength and many great achievements of Black people, and take time to reflect on the full body of our nation’s history,” says Professor Davis. “Listen to and affirm the voices, experiences, and heritage of those who often go unacknowledged, those who navigate our systems of oppression, daily.”
Heritage months are part of making change across the college
From the viewpoint of the college’s mission and vision, Professor Davis points out that “BMCC is committed to ‘getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.’ The change we seek will require work and require us to shift.”
As part of its charge, the Race, Equity, and Inclusion Steering Committee is dedicated to holding BMCC accountable in its efforts to combat and address racism and inequality, and to advance equity, inclusion, and justice — not only across the college and among students, staff and faculty — but in our local communities and even more broadly,” she says. “It is now time that we prioritize action and institutionalize change, for today and for the future.”
Committee members include students, alumni and span the college
In addition to Dean Shults, who chairs the Afrikan Heritage Committee, members include Ramon Acosta, BMCC Alumna; James Blake, Professor and Student Psychological Counselor; Salimatou Doumbouya, BMCC Alumni, former BMCC SGA Senator; Yama Faye, BMCC SGA Vice President; Elaine J. Flowers, Employer Relations Coordinator; Eric Glaude, Student Life Psychological Counselor and Veterans Specialist; Ashtian Holmes, Director of Urban Male Leadership Academy; Michelle Kismatali, Career Development Assistant; Tabethah S. Mack-Ouattara, Student Psychological Counselor; Josiah A. Ramesar, BMCC SGA President; Mamadou Salihou Bah, BMCC Alumni, former BMCC SGA Vice President and Thierry Thesatus, Associate Director of Career Services.
For a full listing of the Afrikan Heritage Month events, please visit the BMCC website. All of the events are free and open to the BMCC and CUNY community of students, faculty, staff and alumni.
- Afrikan Heritage Month runs February 4 through 23 and provides workshops, performances and speakers
- Events are free, virtual and open to the CUNY community
- Theme is “Awakening” — “With awakening comes reckoning and the programming this year will highlight these issues while also celebrating the beauty of the Afrikan diaspora,” says Dean Christopher Shults, planning committee chair