The Black Student Union hosted the opening ceremonies of Black History Month on Thursday with faculty and staff speakers and an exceptionally low student turnout.
Fifteen to 20 people were gathered in the Grand Salon to celebrate the history and legacy of blacks in America.
According to 2005 data from the CSUN Office of Institutional Research, about 2,500 black students are enrolled at CSUN. CSUN’s total student enrollment is well over 30,000.
The BSU has been on campus since 1968 and the Pan-African Studies Department began a year later.
BSU President Kalic Chambers did not express worry at the many open seats.
“You can’t have a big turnout every time,” Chambers said.
The BSU is working in collaboration with the Muslim Students Association and the NAACP on putting together events throughout the month of February.
The student leaders of these groups put their personal time and energy into getting quality guest speakers and informative forums together at no additional cost to students.
“We have the leaders, but we need the workers,” said BSU First Vice President Ken Barrow in his introduction to the opening ceremonies.
The last speaker of the day was Pan-African Studies Department Chair Dr. Tom Spencer-Walters.
“There are over 2,000 black students on campus, we should have all these chairs filled, over-filled,” Spencer-Walters said.
The cultural student leaders are hopeful that attendance will strengthen as more flyers are put up and handed out on campus.
The first speaker of the day was Dianne Bartlow, assistant professor of the women’s studies department, who reminded students of the history that is lost due to ethnic prejudices.
“Did you know that the first female public speaker was a black woman in the 1830s?” Bartlow asked.
“Or that the first printing press was in Mexico? Contributions by our forefathers and foremothers are key,” she said.
Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs William Watkins spoke briefly on the new challenges unique to current CSUN students.
“There exist new challenges absolutely unique to your generation that are there for you to solve,” Watkins said to those who believe they missed the excitement and turbulence of the 1960s and 1970s.
The differences now, he said, are more socioeconomic than when he was an Associated Students president at CSUN.
“I applaud you for maintaining Black History Month and for sharing it with the entire CSUN community,” Watkins said.
Spencer-Walters spoke of his recent trip to Africa and of what he considers successes.
“Success comes with struggle. It’s a dynamic process; your sacrifice is someone else’s success,” Spencer-Walters said.
“This is a day to be rejoicing, elated to be alive, to talk about your history and have people to share that history with you,” he told the few students.
Spencer-Walters also recounted the birth of the BSU and Pan-African studies department at CSUN, reminding students of what the struggle was about.
“Back then, they wanted respect, not just a piece of paper and a decent job to follow,” Spencer-Walters said. “What will be your contribution to the success of your race?”
Chambers reiterated the speakers’ points and made a few of his own concerning the individual vs. the collective group.
“It doesn’t work if only the individual succeeds. We want more than what you see on TV and in magazines,” Chambers said. “Is that the kind of legacy we want to leave to our children?
“You need to learn about your history in order to understand the importance of you being here,” Chambers said.
Barrows says they are expecting big names in the black community to show up for events this month, including Paul Mooney and Ilayah Shabazz (the daughter of Malcolm X). These events, including an “N-Word Forum,” will be held throughout February.
“We fail to realize that we are valuable to the history of our people,” Barrow said as he concluded the Black History Month opening ceremonies.