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Hip-Hop Activist Jasiri X Launches Black History Month

Sarah Roberts ’20, News Editor and Sophia Cerroni '22
“They say Jasiri X you preach too much, I'm like Black people we asleep too much, A Black President but he doesn't speak for us, Another Black body lynched is not unique to us.”
Jasiri X is a hip-hop artist and political activist who uses his platform to speak on racial inequity in the United States and around the globe. At Assembly on February 1, Jasiri shared his journey with the Hopkins
community, from explaining his mother’s profound influence on his path as an artist to the creation of 1Hood, an artist and activist collective that he co-founded in Pittsburgh to promote peace. As Rehab Senanu ’20 put it, “He spit nothing but facts, and not everybody can do that.”

"As a young Black Muslim man, Jasiri uses his art to interact with his community and I thought he would be a great person to show us what that back and forth between the individual and their community is like,” explained Becky Harper, the Director of Equity and Community. Mikiko Coakley ’23 was amazed to hear how Jasiri connects with his community and realized “since most of us don’t have his background, it was eye-opening to hear about his experiences and how they can apply to us.” Other members of the community appreciated this change of pace as well. Elizabeth Roy ’20 said: “Although Hopkins alums can be incredibly interesting people, I tend to be less engaged in their presentations. It feels more productive to listen to people who have had different experiences than us, like Jasiri X, and to appreciate their stories.” In the opinion of Jamie Donovan ’19, “he’s the best speaker we’ve had all year.” Jasiri explained that his message to students is twofold: “One: follow your passions, your dreams, your conviction. Two: tell your own story and don’t let anybody else do it for you. Do it for yourself.”

The presentation from Jasiri X was the first of many initiatives to kick off the celebration of Black History Month at Hopkins. In an effort to strengthen the celebration and collaboration of Black History Month at Hopkins, Students United for Racial Equity (SURE) and the newly reinstated Black Student Union (BSU) came together to plan an even more comprehensive month of events. This planning committee consists of BSU heads Lizabeth Bamgboye ’20 and Michael Christie ’19 and SURE heads Sana Patel ’19, Elena Brennan ’20, and Rayane Taroua ’20.

Bamgboye explained why she pushed to revive the BSU, which had been dissolved a few years ago, “While we all appreciate that space and discussion that SURE provides. Michael Christie and I believed that the Black students on campus deserved a space to discuss experiences relating to them.” Last year, Bamgboye and Christie sent out a survey to members of the Black community asking if they would want a support system at school and the response was a resounding yes. This lead to the reformation of the BSU, as well as the Black Alumni Network.

The next Black History Month speaker will be Sylvia Chan-Malik, a professor of American, Ethnic, and Women's Studies at Rutgers University, on February 21. February 21 is Martyr’s Day, the day Malcolm X was assassinated. Professor Chan-Malik is of Asian background but married a Muslim man and converted to Islam. “Through personal stories, Professor Chan-Malik will be able to speak on American Islam through the eyes of women of color,” shared Dante Brito, another adviser in the Offce of Equity and Community. Her presentation will focus on Malcolm X, his life, and his importance.

Although the knowledge and experience these speakers bring to campus seem immeasurable to some members of the community, the BSU and SURE recognize the importance of looking inwards. “Bringing outsiders in is extremely valuable, but we also want to stimulate intimacy in our own community and to understand how students on our campus feel,” commented Taroua. To accomplish this, Taroua and the rest of the Black History Month committee have organized a fishbowl discussion for February 27. It will take place in upper Heath during Activities Period. The discussion will be very informal, with the primary goal of creating an open space where students can feel comfortable asking questions and understanding how their peers feel.

In addition to the fishbowl discussion, there will be a Black History Month Showcase on February 20 to “spotlight both Black artists within our community and the United States in general,” said Brennan. “The showcase will strive to show the emotion and heart of Black History Month through all types of art.” The showcase will feature a performance from Dance Crew, Jam Club, and couple of individual songs.

In the span of the month, SURE and the BSU have three separate movie screenings planned. The first will be a special screening for the Junior School of Hidden Figures, a movie about three African-American women working at NASA during the space race.

On February 22, there will be an all-school movie night screening The Rape of Recy Taylor, the story of an African-American wife and mother who was gang-raped by six white men in 1944 Alabama. The screening of the documentary will be followed by a Q&A session with Professor Crystal Feimster, a professor of African-American studies at Yale University who worked on the movie. “This is an amazing opportunity open to the entire Hopkins community, including parents. Professor Feimster had a large contribution to the flm as her academic focus is on racial and sexual violence,” emphasized Brennan. She will be following up with the Hopkins Community during Activities Period on the following Wednesday to continue to unpack the documentary. To close out the month on March 1, there will be a High School only screening of The 13th, a documentary exploring the history of racial inequality in the United States, focusing on the nation’s racially disproportionate prisons.

In addition to these larger-scale activities, the committee hopes to send out Black history facts every week, and with the help of Chris Jacox, “we will be putting out poems on Fridays by African-American authors,” said Brito. In truly talking about Black History for a month, “we are generating conversations that will continue to remain relevant,” indicated Bamgboye.

As Black History Month continues, Bamgboye and the other members of the Black Student Union and SURE urge the community to do more: “Listen. Welcome discomfort. You may not know the right words or facts and that is okay. Go to a movie night. Participate in the showcase. Ask a question burning on your heart during a Q&A. Learn with us. Celebrate with us. Most importantly, carry this attitude not only this month of February but every single day hereafter.”
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