Pierce College campus remains closed due to the pandemic, but students and teachers still have the opportunity to participate and educate themselves about Black History Month events that have recently occurred on campus.
Umoja counselor Lateaira Boyd said the campus as a whole consists of a small community of Black students, so celebrating the culture may be impactful on their learning experiences at Pierce and their connection to a community.
“I think it’s definitely good for everyone to experience it because it brings awareness to the community, and also to the students in the program that are of Black African American background,” Boyd said. “They get to feel closer to their culture, learn more about their culture, and really get educated in that.”
Dr. Kalynda McLean, another Umoja counselor, said that having Black History Month events felt necessary.
“For too many years and for far too long, many parts of American history which included the contributions by people of Black and African American descent have not been included as part of American history, and it is American history,” McLean said.
McLean said taking one month to spotlight the history and the contributions of African Americans is not enough, so it’s just one small offering.
“One of the amazing things about the Umoja program is that we celebrate Black history all year long in every opportunity we have,” McLean said. “It’s a great opportunity to not only make students feel comfortable, included, and to enrich their learning experience. It’s also an opportunity to educate students about what they may or may not know about.”
McLean said that with today’s political climate, there has been an awakening for many other Americans. She also said, however, that this wasn’t new for African Americans.
“This is part of the daily struggle and the daily climate that some of us live in, so it’s nice for the rest of the country to come along and to really understand that there is systemic racism and injustice,” McLean said.
According to Boyd, the Umoja program has given students comfort and the ability to talk about those issues more.
“We as educators are able to work with students through those feelings even if we may be experiencing those same things,” Boyd said.
Black History Month events are a gateway to educate and guide students at Pierce, but it is also a reminder of the daily importance of Black Lives Matter.
“Personally, I think that Black Lives Matter is a statement,” McLean said. “It’s a statement that needs to be said because the lives of Black people in this country, historically, have not been valued. It needs to be said for those who don’t recognize that Black lives matter, but I think it’s as simple as [saying] the sky is blue. It’s a very rich statement, but it’s a lot more than what meets the eye.”
The Black History Month events are put together by the staff and counselors of Umoja who determine what would be beneficial and engaging to the students, especially online.
“For a virtual setting, there have been good turnouts,” Boyd said. “Surprisingly people are very engaged in it, because I know Zoom fatigue is real.”
Boyd’s favorite event was Cocoa, Cookies, and Culture where the students brought their own cocoa and cookies. Before COVID-19, Umoja counselors usually provided the sweets on campus.
Boyd also said other Pierce faculty participated and were included in the festivities.
“We played some Black History Month trivia and also included Professor Strickland, a history instructor at Pierce,” Boyd said. “We had a lot of instructors Umojified. Strickland came in and spoke a lot about music and dissected a whole song. A lot of students have brought awareness to them and they really loved it.”
The Umoja program has a student liaison that works with Pierce College students to provide input from their perspectives.
“There’s a lot of effort put forth behind the events and ritually is a team effort and Umoja’s team includes students,” said McLean.”One of the things that are important to the program that’s a part of one of our Umoja practices is being intentional and deliberate – so everything that we do including our programming is very intentional to be fun, educational, engaging, and create a community.”
Sally Kassamanian, a Diversity Committee member since 2016 has been helping newsletter team leader, Maria Bates, with newsletter content and editing.
Kassamanian thinks Umoja is an incredible resource for Pierce students. Kassamanian’s goal and purpose as a Diversity Committee member is to help promote equity and ensure that all of the students, faculty, and staff have a voice here on campus.
“This purpose is directly related to Black History Month,” Kassamanian said. “Every February, we celebrate the many accomplishments of the Black community which have been unjustly unacknowledged and undervalued in our country.”
As Kassamanian’s part of the Diversity Committee’s mission and goals, they have been working with campus organizations to support and promote the many impactful Black History Month events at Pierce.
“Being a Diversity Committee member has definitely affected my life in a positive way,” Kassamanian said. “The committee is continuously working on creating more equitable teaching practices, hiring practices, curricula, etc. to foster diversity on our campus. Knowing that we have a team of such dedicated faculty, students, and staff empowers me and gives me hope that we are stepping in the right direction towards social justice.”
Sierra Bledsoe, who is in charge of the Black History Month events was inspired seeing other schools take their programs and events online and be able to get so much student engagement.
“I really wanted to do something for our students that could not only educate them on different topics of black history, but also for them to enjoy and celebrate with us,” said Bledsoe.
Bledsoe has always been very interested in finding different wants to help bring her community at Pierce together.
“I work with the diversity committee on several projects for student engagement and inclusivity,” said Bledsoe. “Doing this is something I’m proud of and hope others can take away as being something that they can gain knowledge from.”
Bledsoe ran a Black History Month trivia on the ASO Instagram page which reached around four-hundred people, which is the tripled amount of daily views the ASO page receives.
“The program has been very successful with this being the first time that all of our events will be online,” Bledsoe said. “The poetry slam had several performers recite both original and famous poem pieces.”
The events have been going on since the first week of February 2021, when Bledsoe hosted their first trivia called Women in Black History. ASO partnered with Umoja to sponsor the Culture and Cookies event. The most recent event Bledsoe hosted was the dual event, which was poetry slam and trivia.
“I feel that these events have impacted Pierce College in a major way because students can now engage on an online platform,” Bledsoe said. “Students are also able to express themselves and relate to one another. These events have promoted inclusivity, celebration, and the importance of black history.”
Bledsoe’s greatest achievements are being able to see students and faculty come together and learn about black history.
“It feels so great to be a resource for others,” said Bledsoe. “I’ve so far and being able to take the lead on an entire Black History Month celebration has been groundbreaking.”
Bledsoe’s current plan for the rest of the month is working on gathering scholarships and internship opportunities for students of color that will be shared in the ASO Instagram page.
“It will be a mini event where I will talk about the different opportunities as well as answer questions about the application process,” said Bledsoe.