L to R: PAO, US Consulate, Russell Brooks; Deputy Vice Chancelor, Unilag, Prof. Folasade Ogunsola; and Professor Muyiwa Falaiye, the Director of the Institute of African and Diaspora Studies and the Dean, Faculty of Arts, Unilag.
The history of the United States of America is gauged with historical events, all of which are remarkable in the evolution of the country from the visions of it’s father founders, to the turmoils of the Civil War, through the inconveniences of liberational struggles for freedom of the blacks. Interestingly, each of these events is peculiar to itself, yet evoking a trail of the country’s cultural diversity, economic bouyancy, military strength and political thrust.
One of such special historical event which like many others is marked as a day of widespread celebration and remembrance to the extent that it appears a great part of the US known national day is the Black History Month. The Black History Month began in 1926 as a Negro History Week, and according to available records was founded by a renowned African Historian, Carter G. Woodson, alongside the Association for the Study of Negro Life United States.
To commemorate this day, a week long event is organized by the Institute of African and Disapora Studies, Faculty of Arts, University of Lagos, Akoka from Tuesday 26th February to Friday 7th March, 2019. The event is proudly supported by the US Mission to Nigeria, and is put together to interrogate issues around the black man all over the world.
Diplomatic Watch (DW) alongside other media outlets was present to cover the epoch making hour. The event eventually began and succeeded in living up to it’s billing.
The grand opening of events -was billed for Tuesday, 26th February, 2019 and began around 10.00am with a welcome remark by Professor Muyiwa Falaiye, the Director of the Institute of African and Diaspora Studies and the Dean, Faculty of Arts, University of Lagos. In his remarks, he spoke about the relevance of the Black History Month, while pronouncing the significance of it in the life of an average African living anywhere in the world.
Professor Falaiye began by reeling out the reason behind the establishment of the Institute of Africa and Diaspora Studies, which he broke down into a tripod largely as a research center, relationship center and all in a drive to better the society.
In furtherance of his remark he said, “my experience when I first visited the US on post-doctoral made me begin to see through Africa and the blacks. I began to appreciate blackness and Africaness more than I used to, especially where we are today. It was because I had connected the dots of pains and anguish, and was able to understand the circumstances of the black man. And that we shall be proud who of who we are.”
In closing, he thanked the US Mission to Nigeria for their open door policy to the Institute and the University of Lagos, while hoping that the relationship between and the institute, University of Lagos and the US Mission will continue.
He made way for the Deputy Vice Chancellor, Development Services of the University of Lagos, Professor (Mrs) Folashade Ogunshola who represented the Vice Chancellor Professor Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, who was on that day still on National Election Duty for Nigeria. In her speech, Professor Ogunshola spoke passionately about her joy in seeing such event come live in the institution, as well as her wish in seeing the relationship grow in leaps in the coming years.
She further expressed her conviction that the Vice Chancellor would have also spoken highly of the event. She aired her view on the need for blacks to celebrate themselves while thanking the US Mission, the Institute and the University for organizing such a wonderful, knowledge enriching events. She closed by enjoining the students, staffs and guests to enjoy the week long event.
To usher in the U.S. Consulate Public Affairs Officer Russell Brooks for the key note address of 2019 Black History Month, a dance troop of students of the University serenaded the stage with a soulful song embellished in a drama-like dance to highlight the beauty of African art and culture.
Mr Brooks later graced the stage to give a key note address. It was titled, ‘From 1619 to 2019: Why We Must Continue to Highlight Black Excellence.’
He started by thanking the Institute for the great work they have been doing in encouraging discourse on African related issues. He also gave teeth to his key note when he began to recount the origin and significance of the Black History Month. To deepen his grip on the title, he spoke highly of the founder of the Black History Month.
He said; ‘It is not terribly surprising that his idea to recognize the achievements of black Americans and black people throughout history would eventually be deemed worthy of an entire month rather than a week and by 1969, black educators began advocating for a Black History Month. The first celebration of Black History Month took place at Kent State University in 1970 and six years later President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month during the celebration of the United States Bicentennial.’
One of the highpoints of Mr Brooks remark was his pronouncement of the varying commemorations that marks the Black History Month in the US. To buttress it, he said; ‘we have an annual Presidential Proclamation marking the occasion and schools, churches, and community organizations generally organize activities to remind us of great African-American historical figures from Crispus Attucks, who died in the Boston Massacre that helped stoke the American Revolution; to Harriett Tubman, the courageous escaped slave who returned to the South numerous times to help free approximately seventy others; to more recent heroes such as Martin Luther King, Jr and former President Barack Obama.’
In addition to the above, he further stated, ‘at U.S. embassies and consulates around the world, we mark Black History Month by conducting programs to remind both local audiences and our fellow Americans of the significant contributions of black people in building the United States into the great country that it has become today.’
To demonstrate his points, Mr Brooks drew example from the US Mission activities in Nigeria. He said, ‘last year the U.S. Mission in Nigeria featured black historical figures on its Facebook page throughout the month of February. As with any post on social media, you will receive a variety of responses, some positive, some negative. However, one of the responses that we received a year ago especially caught my attention and caused me to draft my own reply. The individual asked, Why are there historically black colleges and universities in the United States? Furthermore, the person also asked whether the establishment of these schools amounted to racism against white people?’
He continued, ‘..to say that this question struck a nerve is perhaps an understatement. This presumably young Nigerian was clearly unfamiliar with the history of the African-American experience but I believe it was an earnest question and I believe I drafted an earnest and respectful reply, explaining that these colleges and universities were originally created because blacks could not attend the same schools as whites in many parts of the United States. Therefore, if blacks were to receive a college education, they had to attend schools established specifically for them.
Significantly he spoke about the belief that black history was only about Africa-Americans. He reminded the audience that author of the book ‘The Three Musketeers’ and ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’, Alexandre Dumas, was a black man. And that Alexander Pushkin, known as the quintessential Russian writer, was inspired by his African great-grandfather, Abraham Petrovitch Gannibal, who was kidnapped from Africa as a young man but rose to become a general and a member of the royal court of Tsar Peter the Great.
As one of his last expositions on Black History Month, he spoke of the contribution of Africans to Black History. He said, ‘..on the African continent, I am sure you take great pride in the accomplishments of Nnamdi Azikiwe, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Fela, Kofi Annan, Angelique Kidjo, Miriam Mkeba, and many, many others. Nevertheless, the need to tell our stories, accurately, and with pride, is just as important today as it ever was. There are still doubters among us, there are haters, and there is the need to instill a sense of pride in our children and grandchildren. That need will never cease.’
He then closed his remarks by adopting the quote of the famous African-American female journalist, who later became a civil rights activist, Ida B. Wells. She said, “..the way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.”
The event eventually came to a close with light refreshments at the base of the J.P Clark Centre, venue of the event.