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Black History Month and DU’s enduring commitment to diversity

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Renea Morris

Renea Morris

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As February begins, we have an opportunity and renewed responsibility to learn and listen to the stories and achievements that have shaped our history and will illuminate our future. The month of February as national African American History Month had its origins in 1915 when historian and author Dr. Carter G. Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. The organization initiated Negro History Week in February of 1926 and the first recorded celebration of Black History Month took place at Kent State University in 1970, on the heels of the civil rights movement. President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month six years later. In 1986, Congress passed Public Law 99-244 to designate February as “National Black (Afro-American) History Month.” The law directed the president to issue a proclamation calling on the people of the United States to observe the month with appropriate activities and celebrate the accomplishments of African Americans.

During President Obama’s last recognition of Black History Month in 2016, there was a monthlong series of events, which were meant to “reflect on the sacrifices and contributions made by generations of African Americans.” During the course of the month, he asked all Americans to “resolve to continue our march toward a day when every person knows the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

As I watched Kamala Harris become the first female, Black, and South Asian Vice President last month and anticipate Roz Brewer becoming the first African American female executive to head up Fortune 500 company Walgreens Boots Alliance in March, I am hopeful that we will one day reach that day President Obama espoused.

To this end, this year marks the 20th annual Diversity Summit here at the University of Denver. The Summit kicked off on January 20 this year and will continue through March. The University has dedicated two decades to this work and is not only continuing its commitment unabated but is picking up speed. As I look back at 2020, two significant items stand out amid a long, difficult, and incredibly chaotic summer. The Chancellor recognized Juneteenth as a DU holiday and, after another wave of deaths of Black men and women at the hands of the police, implored the DU community to stand on the side of justice and embrace an opportunity for true transformation.

In February and in the months ahead, we each have the opportunity and an obligation to learn about the struggles of African Americans, acknowledge and celebrate their achievements, and support the fight for enduring justice in our society.