Just driving around one day, a group of young girls decided to take their history and make it part of the present.
Rachel Murphy, senior women’s studies major and president of the Women’s Studies Student Association, was reflecting on her volunteer work at the CSUN women’s resource center, which is sponsored by the Women’s Studies Department.
She realized that there was something missing.
“This school talks about diversity but doesn’t have a lot of diversity programs,” Murphy said.
It was just before August of 2005, but Murphy, and three top officers at the WSSA were already planning for the Black History Month celebration in February. They pondered on co-sponsoring events with other black student organizations on campus. They were not sure of their exact plans; they just knew they wanted black women in history to be represented.
As time passed, Murphy and her friends realized they had hit on something bigger than they had imagined.
“We were only going to do this for one day, but all of a sudden it clicked. I began to think about our mission and what we wanted to accomplish. Our whole idea of the program changed.”
Black herstory week at CSUN was born.
“When we talk about black women in black history, we discuss a lot of writers, Bell Hooks, Angela Davis, it’s not necessarily history of black women,” Murphy said.
One of the messages Murphy wants to get out is that black women have made very important and valid contributions to American society, and there needs to be more awareness of the accomplishments of black women in all arenas.
“(Black women) don’t get enough recognition, we need more education on things that happen with black women,” Murphy said.
Mozella Galloway is the President and Co-Founder of the nine-year-old National Black Herstory Task Force. She said that Black Herstory and the celebration of the past, present, and future accomplishments of black women is vital to their future.
“I have walked up to young ladies who have said they are American and that they don’t want to know about their (black) past,” Galloway said.
“It is imperative and urgent that young women know where they come from,” Galloway said. “It alleviates ignorance and helps their self-esteem,” she said.
Galloway commended Murphy and her peers for bringing the celebration to CSUN.
“We need warrior women,” Galloway said.
Monica Turner, Pan-African Studies professor, said she was very impressed with the fact that it was students who came up with the idea of celebrating a black herstory week on campus. “I’m really glad that students were innovative and took the initiative to create a program that involves young minority women writing themselves in history,” Turner said.
As a black woman involved in academia, Turner said “it is of paramount importance” for young black women to not be disconnected from the past.
Turner also said that in popular culture today there is a real need for young women not to compromise themselves.
“Young women need to understand that the way they present themselves, to have that certain freedom, they have to be socially responsible. They are walking the fine line between moral dictates and hedonism consumption,” Turner said.
Lasondra Wilson is a sophomore child and adolescent development major and the vice president of the WSSA.
“They call us negative names or portray us negatively and as women we are buying into that,” Wilson said. She agreed that there is an environment in society today that perpetuates the disrespect, and therefore the disregard, of young black women.
“We’ve already put it out there, we have to take the time and responsibility to change that. Part of it is education. We all have these negative biases and education is a way to change that, it seems clich? but its true,” Wilson said.
Wilson was another vital participant in the creation of Black Herstory week, and she is proud to be active.
“We don’t have to do secretarial work, we can do the logistics and lead the fight,” she said.
Wilson is glad to be at the forefront of a program, and not just sitting in the sidelines.
“In our campus and in society, women are the backbones to things, behind the scenes,” Murphy said. “We need to invest an interest in our future because we are the future.”
The theme of the first annual black herstory week is “Celebrating our past and envisioning our future,” and that theme takes on many meanings for many different students.
“We always talk about Rosa Parks, what about the 10,000 other Rosa Parks in black history who have done amazing activism in different spheres,” Rachel Levitt, senior double major in communication studies and women’s studies, said.
“The Black Panthers were formed by four, not three members,” Levitt said.
Elaine Brown was the fourth member who helped create the black militant organization in the sixties.
“This is a struggle to see yourself reflected in academia and mainstream society.”
“No one knows about Coretta Scott King and Alexa Canady. The only time you hear about these women is when they die”
Kellvon Smith, general manager of WSSA and senior human sexuality major, and self proclaimed feminist said that in his education there has been a real disregard of prominent women.
“In sociology it’s not just African-American women but all women. I didn’t hear about Audrey Lorde, a black feminist and sociologist, until my senior year,” Smith said.
Murphy and Wilson talk about the future of Black Herstory with high hopes.
For now Murphy is working on taking the black herstory week program to the National Women’s Studies Association Conference in Oakland in mid-June.
“We are going out there to bring awareness to women’s studies and the women’s center,” Murphy said. “CSUN Women’s Center is taking strides to promoting more diversity,”
When asked about her visions of the future, Murphy expressed a desire to have young black women realize their capabilities and power.
“My vision for the younger black generation would be to understand that as a black woman you can make a difference, within the community,” Murphy said. “Men aren’t the only ones who can create some form of change. Without woman there is no man, without man there would be no woman.”
Unity between men and women is another arena in which Murphy said she thinks learning about the past can help the future.
“We saw in the past black men and women working together,” Murphy said. “Frederick Douglass worked alongside Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, for a cause that didn’t even directly affect black women,” Murphy said. “If in the future we work together, like in the past, we can see that it’s worked.”
For now, Murphy is simply waiting for the week to be over, so she can sleep.
“We are up till three in the morning every night,” Murphy said, with a bloodshot look in her eyes. She is very happy with the outcome of her coincidental creation, and is confident about the future of black herstory week; even though she will no longer be at the helm of the organization, she has faith in her friends.
“We’ve all come to some form of conclusion that next year it will be bigger,” Murphy said. “This year was a learning experience.
“You too can come together to create some big form of change.”
Connie Llanos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.