What Black History Month really means in college and beyond.

Race is still a factor on college campuses.

Arnetta Randall

For many African Americans, Black History Month means celebration and an entire month displaying African American history, but to others it’s both a gift and a curse, said Bryant Maxwell, an English and Economics Alumnus from the University of Illinois.

Black History Month was first recognized by President Gerald Ford in 1976, as a time to celebrate the accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans in U.S. history. It falls on every February since that time. However, a glimpse through the looking glass by several African-American students shows a mixture of pride and dissatisfaction, including biting commentary about the current state of affairs, as well as hopes for the future.

“At least this history is being covered,” said Aaisha Haykal. “But it relegates black history and black people to a certain month, and assumes there is not any other time of year to celebrate my people.”

Haykal is pursuing a Master’s Degree in Library Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and sees similar problems with other theme months, such as Breast Cancer or AIDS Awareness Months.

“I also have an issue with the shallowness of the information that is provided,” she said. “It’s mostly just facts as opposed to a real discourse about [historical and current] issues facing the black community.”

The constrained time period may be one challenge, but general public knowledge also lacks depth and perspective, according to Cy Hendrickson, a Caucasian high school math teacher on Chicago’s West Side.

“I see the vast majority of the history of minorities in this country as sort of the dark side of history’s moon,” according to Hendrickson, who is Caucasian.

Hendrickson links public ignorance about the civil rights movement and African-American endurance to an endemic lack of knowledge about less glorious threads of American society, history and politics. This influences the way people celebrate Black History Month and think about the people who made that history, zeroing in on certain popular figures like Martin Luther King or Rosa Parks while ignoring everything else.