The theme for this year’s Black History Month is getting to know the “Black faces you see every day, but don’t know much about,” co-head of BLSU Milan Yorke ’21 says. She continues, “Therefore, all of our events are more in-house. We’re keeping speakers to current students, alumni, and faculty. We plan to have a Kahoot for advisory groups to play around with, a song of the week that showcases Black culture throughout the years, and multiple movie nights.” Yorke explains their objective behind these events: “We really wanted to highlight our Black peers and reinvent the month specifically for them to enjoy.”
A key aspect of this year’s Black History Month is incorporating more speeches from Black people within the Hopkins community, rather than turning to outside speakers. Co-head of BLSU Michael Imevbore ’21 elaborates, “We have four scheduled speakers, with three of them currently on campus and one a semi-recent graduate.” He continues, “We thought it would be more productive for students to learn about the experiences of people close to them today, rather than from a past that might seem unfamiliar to them. There are so many people that we think we know, but we only know on a surface level. Hear[ing] their stories will be eye-opening.” Co-chair of Diversity Board Hannah Szabo ’21 believes that the speeches are “a great way to continue the work of the @blackathopkins_ [Instagram account] of uplifting voices that need to be heard.” Imevbore echoes Szabo: “The personal stories that Black @ Hopkins School posts played a part in us deciding to keep the speakers very personal to Hopkins.”
The @blackathopkins_ Instagram account was created last summer to amplify Black voices within the Hopkins community and provide them with a platform to share their experiences of racism at Hopkins.
BLSU also plans to screen three films, "The Photograph," "Black Panther," and "Just Mercy," that touch on Black history or culture, and feature a predominantly Black cast. Co-head of SURE Jasmine Simmons ’21 explains the significance of film for Black History Month: “Film is a great way to learn about the history and celebrate Black culture. In past years, these were some of my favorite events because they can be entertaining, but also really productive.” Co-chair of Diversity Board Ranease Brown '21 reinforces Simmons’s sentiments, noting the impression last year’s Black History Month films left on her: “I loved the trip that Hopkins planned to see 'Harriet.' There is such beauty in the representation of Black people in movies and when Hopkins made that step, I was overjoyed, to put it lightly.” Brown explains that from that experience she wanted to carry on the tradition of watching “different movies and documentaries each week pertaining to Black culture.”
On February 26, Black History Month will culminate with the Black History Month Student Showcase, a celebration of Black poetry, music, and dance.
With Covid-19 and the hybrid model, replicating the usual showcase was a challenge for BLSU, SURE, and Diversity Board. However, they wanted to preserve this Black History Month custom. Brown details why she wants to keep the showcase: “I have performed in [the showcase] almost every year since eighth grade, and there is nothing like watching people express themselves through art. Whether it is painting, playing an instrument, singing or dancing, there is so much talent in the community.” The showcase will not look the same as it has in previous years, as it will take place virtually. Brown explains, “We will be formatting the event similarly to what we did at the end of the 2019-20 school year for Hopkins Arts Night. We will put all the videos together and release the premiering time for everyone to tune in.” Szabo continues: “A challenge for Black History Month events is to replicate that sense of community that you have in an in-person conversation.”
Brown explains how they plan to overcome these obstacles: “Our team has had practice with Zoom for almost a year now and can facilitate and work through a screen with the same energy as if we were in Upper Heath. The silver lining is that when we have the showcase, performers will not get stage fright when seeing all their friends’ faces.”
Imevbore details the other changes Covid-19 brought to this year’s Black History Month program: “Our speakers cannot speak in Assembly and then stay after for a Q&A like previous years. Also, with the hybrid model, we are not able to have a screening of the movies we planned at Hopkins for the whole school.” Co-head of BLSU Anajah Williams ’21 explains how these changes raised some concerns: “Everything needing to be online is a bit frustrating considering we have to make a lot of what we are doing optional. There is always a fear that no one will watch or pay attention now.”
Looking towards the future of Black history at Hopkins, Simmons hopes that Hopkins’s curriculum will amplify more Black voices and experiences: “Our history courses, specifically the Atlantic Communities seem to be taught primarily from the perspective of white
Europeans and Americans. Something I would love to see is more literature that showcases regular Black people as opposed to being centered around Black trauma and racism.” Imevbore notes a similar lack of Black representation in Hopkins’s English curriculum: “I can only remember reading two stories that dealt with Black culture, Fences and The Sellout, and those are not necessarily focused on Black history. If you don’t take the African-American Symposium, you really don’t learn about Black history past slavery.”
Brown acknowledges the difficulties of changing the curriculum, but still urges Hopkins to offer a wider variety of electives: “I don’t just think that Black history is not taught enough in English and History classes, it isn’t. I’ve spoken with many teachers and they feel the same way. It is just very difficult to alter an entire curriculum in order to allow for more diverse History courses. The main problem with our English and History curriculum, in terms of learning about Black history, is that we don’t have any electives that could take the place of the required Atlantic Communities curriculum.”
Reflecting on what Black History Month means to her, Simmons says, “It’s a time to recognize the history that is fundamentally tied to the story of this nation, but that is too often ignored or unappreciated.”
Brown expresses her opinions on the importance of Black History Month: “Although it may not seem like celebrating Black culture for a month can bring us all together, it allows for the minorities to feel more proud and have their voices amplified. It is one of the most powerful months in our calendar.” Williams adds, “It’s sad we only get one month to show how long we fought to be where we are today. We squeeze as much as we can into February because it’s proof of our struggle and how we built our culture.” Yorke shares her take: “Not only is it my birthday month, but it’s a month where everyone that looks like me and who might be a few shades darker or lighter can gather around and be fully immersed in our unique and lovable Blackness. It’s a month for love and appreciation for all that our ancestors went through. A time when being unapologetically Black is welcome. It’s a time for Black people to just be Black and nothing else.”