Student-Led Celebration Praises A Fuller Spectrum of Black History

By Genesis Ramos

Students and professors gathered in the Student Life Building for Victoria Smith’s Black History Month event. Photo by Genesis Ramos.

In celebration of Black History Month, an event called “Lift Every Voice: A Celebration of the Black Diaspora” was held on Feb. 21 in room 222 of the Student Life Building. The discussion expanded the popular conception of black history month beyond solely African-American history to also include Afro-Latino history and the history of the entire African diaspora. James Mercado, a Lehman biochemistry major who attended the event said, “It is reassuring to know that we are no longer willing to let ourselves be divided by cultural and geographic boundaries.” 

Lehman sophomore and political science major Victoria Smith created the event in honor of Black History Month. Smith said she was “inspired by a combination of my family and culture,”--because, she explained, black people come in every shape and color.  Ni-Emah Bugg, a Lehman alum, poet and a singer/songwriter, performed her poem, “To Be Black & Human at the Same Damn Time,” which touched on topics such as the oppression of African Americans, feelings of being set up for failure, and drugs in African American neighborhoods. 

Lehman professors LeRonn Brooks and Lise Esdaile, both in the Africana studies department, also spoke about some issues that the black community is facing, particularly the issue of colorism. Several videos explained the colorist hashtags #Teamdarkskin and #Teamlightskin, which are being used widely in black communities to draw attention to colorism. 

#Teamlightskin, used by those who are light skinned, refers to those who fear their blackness because of the negative misconceptions that are associated with being a person of color. This includes those still black decedents who don’t want to be called Afro-Latino, Afro-German, African American, or Afro-Peruvian. They are a part of a community that has been mistreated for a long time. They choose to now reject this community to evade this mistreatment in the belief that the lighter one’s skin complexion, the better chance of success one has. 

#Teamdarkskin represents the negative associations with blackness. This negative association can be found in the Dominican Republic which comes from slave times. Haiti and the Dominican Republic are separated into two distinct countries. There is now a cultural whitewashing of black Dominican people, many of whom try to disassociate themselves with anything related to blackness. However, event speakers pointed out that denying their origin is not the way to fix the problem.

Hilliary Frank, a Lehman junior and chemistry major, said, “I thought the event was nice and I got to see different artistic performances from black individuals. I specifically loved the poet who came because she talked about black people as well as mental health as a black person, which is something you don’t hear about especially in non-black culture. I hope to see more events like this one in the future.”