Photos and story by Benjamin Henkle / Contributing Writer
MTSU students, faculty and guest speakers discussed the university’s 2019 Black History Month theme, the “Black Migration,” in a passionate, roundtable-style discussion on Tuesday.
Students joined panelists Derek Greenfield, Francis Henderson, Claudell Huges, Yvana McDonald and Breia McCray, as well as moderator Curtis Johnson Tuesday night for a discussion that shed light on the lasting impact this important era had and will have on the past, present and future of African American culture.
The event opened with a YouTube video by Vox, giving everyone in the room a historical common ground by which to discuss the panel topic. Vox defined the Great Migration (or Black Migration) as an era in American history from 1915 to 1970 when “… nearly half of the African American population left (the south) to resettle in emerging northern and western cities.”
In this panel, Johnson posed questions that the audience, as well as the panel, were free to answer. Participants took the opportunity to agree upon, debate or clarify topics brought up in the moderator’s questions.
Important points of discussion were black culture and identity, institutionalized racism, colorism, multiculturalism, gentrification, reverse migration, black excellence, education and unification among black people around the world.
Much of the conversation centered around the importance of understanding history as a means for African-Americans and all black people to move forward.
Henderson told the audience, “If you forget your past, you’re going to repeat it.”
She insisted that African Americans owe it to themselves to learn where they come from so they can grow as a racial group.
One student in the audience, Diamond Williams, said that participation in Black History Month events is important to her because “… we have to learn more about ourselves and about our culture in order to move forward as a productive person of society.”
Williams, a junior at MTSU, hopes that African Americans and their peers from other racial groups can bring up the topic of communication this month.
“You can’t get anything accomplished without explaining yourself across all traces,” Williams said.
Daniel Green, the director of Intercultural and Diversity Affairs at MTSU, said, “I think that students should definitely be aware of all of the difficulties and challenges that were encountered during (The Great Migration), for students to be cognizant of that, because of the fact that nowadays there are opportunities that, here down south, that … people of color did not have that they have now.”
Green believes that African American students should be taking advantage of the opportunities they have here in Middle Tennessee and in other southern states that people of color were once forced to migrate for.
As the panel came to a close, participants of both the panel and the audience came forward with encouragement for their peers to take the Africana Studies courses at MTSU that were not available to many students before them. Some also advocated for extracurricular clubs that have a focus on African American culture at MTSU.
With interesting topics still being unraveled, the panel had to be cut off after the enthusiastic participants went more than 30 minutes over the scheduled end-time.
See the complete calendar of the Black History Month events planned for the remainder of February at MTSU.
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