American University’s Black student organizations are celebrating Black History Month by honoring poignant Black figures, as they work to provide a safe space for Black students and amplify Black voices on and off campus.
Makenna Lindsay, the outreach coordinator for Black Girls Vote and a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences, said the organization’s mission is to boost the voices of Black women in political spheres and encourage all women of color to use their right to vote. The AU chapter belongs to a national collective that encourages Black women to become politically active and catalyze change in their communities.
Black Girls Vote is celebrating Black History Month by advertising new executive-board positions, holding fundraisers to support national Black Girls Vote initiatives and posting about poignant Black figures on its social media.
Black Girls Vote’s social media campaign, “For the Love of Them,” focuses on Black individuals who typically don’t get as much attention.
“We’re trying to steer away from MLK, Malcolm X, individuals like that who have obviously supported the Black community in several ways,” Lindsay said. “We’re trying to focus on people like Jane Bolin, the first Black woman to become a judge in the United States and also the first Black woman to earn a law degree from Yale Law School … someone who might kind of be on the sidelines when it comes to the movement, but definitely still very much appreciated.”
Similar to Black Girls Vote, the Black Student Union is also celebrating Black History Month by honoring Black individuals through social media.
“Every day, we are honoring a different Black figure, just throughout history,” said Zoë Washington, BSU co-president and a senior in the Kogod School of Business. “We have some present-day people but also a lot of historical people. We honor them daily through graphics that we create and we post them via Instagram story.”
Washington said BSU is devoted to assisting Black students through a “Five-Point Program” that provides programming and support for every Black identity. For Washington, BSU’s goal is to promote unification among different Black cultural backgrounds at AU.
BSU has held two events this past month. The organization held a dialogue on Black Love on Feb. 9, and they hosted a virtual mixer for Black students in the D.C., Maryland and Virginia area with George Washington University’s BSU and Catholic University’s Black Student Alliance on Feb. 10.
The AU chapter of the NAACP and BSU are co-hosting a dinner and open mic night at Busboys and Poets on Saturday. The event includes a pre-paid three-course meal and provides Black students a safe space.
Because the majority of AU students are not Black, Lindsay said having a dedicated space for Black students is important because, “we can have somewhere safe to converse with each other, to discuss issues that are important to us that may not be reflected in the university as a whole.” For Lindsay, having a safe space allows Black students to express their issues and interests to feel a part of something greater.
Washington said it’s important for Black students to occupy spaces where people look like them and come from the same culture.
“They can just feel more comfortable with telling their experiences without having to feel like they’re on stage to educate non-Black students,” Washington said.