The Black History Month opening ceremony took place in front of the Matador Bookstore yesterday, featuring a memorial for the famous and influential African Americans who passed away last year.
The deceased were honored with libation, an old African tradition of pouring out wine or oil on the ground is a sign of paying respect to the dead.
Tom Spencer-Walters, chair of the Pan-African Studies Department, said the first year the Black History Month Committee has had a memorial service for African American icons that died the previous year. The reason to have one this year was because there were so many important people who died in 2005, he said.
“We lost so many great icons last year,” Spencer-Walters said. “I wanted to bring attention to students and show them the contribution that they made to the American culture.”
The theme being used for this year’s Black History Month is Looking back, moving forward: the Evolution of Black History, said Spencer-Walters during the opening ceremonies.
“February is not just Black History Month,” Spencer-Walters said. “It is a time that brings out feelings of people’s worth and people’s value.”
Opening ceremonies began with a welcome note from Professor Monica Turner, who is chair of the Black History Month Committee.
“The opening ceremony is a kick-off event to signal the start of Black History Month,” Turner said. “We are trying to bring a recognition to black history in the context of humanity.”
After Turner’s speech, members of different black organizations spoke, including several members of the Black Student Union, who helped set up the event.
Brandy Wilson, president of the BSU, wanted opening ceremonies to remind students that Black History Month has started and to be prepared for upcoming events.
Yemi Kuku, who is the vice president of CSUN’s branch of the NAACP, said his group is sponsoring a film series at the Black House on Halstead Street beginning Feb. 8 and occurring every Wednesday for the rest of the month.
One person who will attract attention is Omar Tyree, who is giving the keynote address on Feb.9 at the Northridge Center, Turner said. Tyree is an National Association for the Advancement of Colored People image-award winner and a New York Times best seller.
The ceremony did draw attention, but not as big as Spencer-Walters had hoped. He was, however, thankful for the people that showed up and was pleased with the diversity of the crowd.
“The diversity of the crowd stress that Black History Month is not just about black history,” said Spencer-Walters. But about American history which blacks are apart of.”
One audience member, who was emotionally touched, was Kathy Culp, who raised a black foster child in the early 1980s.
“I have great respect for black culture and black history,” Culp said. “I wanted to make sure that my child understood the significance of Black History Month.”
Culp said it was difficult for a white woman to raise a black child in Encino during that time. Culp did say, however, that it was the black community that gave her a harder time than the white community did.
“The most important thing to me was that the baby had a home,” Culp said. “I adopted him when he was two-and-a- half months. Now he is 23.”
Turner’s committee is working on putting up a display case in Sierra Hall related to black history and influential African Americans died last year.
Turner said the person who had the biggest impact on her life was comedian Richard Pryor.
“He had this way of capturing oppression with humor,” Turner said. “He said what we think.”
Turner also mentioned Ray Charles, Johnnie Cochran and Luther Vandross among those who had an affect on her.
“Johnnie Cochran used the judicial system to show inequities in society, Ray Charles crossed boundaries of race with his music and Luther’s music is as timeless as Ray Charles’s,” Turner said. “They not only enhanced black history, but American history, so the memorial is critical to each and everyone of us.”
James Gatts, a junior communications major, said Johnnie Cochran meant a lot to him because of his continuous work for African Americans.
“I think he was one of the lawyers who really fought for black people still,” Gatts said. “We need more people like him. We need more lawyers, more doctors, we need more people like that to show we’re just not athletes or entertainers.”
Turner said the people who died last year were all ordinary people who went through obstacles but came out successful and that should speak to students.
“The memorial is essentially a passing of the baton to the next generation of leaders,” Turner said.
Johan Mengesha can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Justin Satzman can be reached at email@example.com.