ESC launches black history month at UNYP

This year, SUNY/Empire State College in Prague participated in the celebration of Black History Month. We sponsored a series of events aimed at showcasing the history and contributions of African-Americans within the story and fabric of U.S. history. We began Black History Month with a lecture delivered by internationally recognized scholar Dr. Max Hilaire. His discussion focused on the fight for African-American voter rights and the Civil Rights movement. The lecture preceded the showing of the movie Selma, based on actual historical events related to the Civil Rights Movement, and this was followed by the screening of the movie Loving. ESC subsequently sponsored a panel discussion with the American Center in Prague on the global influence of African-American music, with students and members of the community in attendance.

Since 1970, the month of February has been observed in the U.S. as Black History Month and has served to remember the contributions and accomplishments of African-Americans and other people of color. This celebration started in 1926 at the initiative of historian Carter G. Woodson and marked the second week of February as ‘Negro History Week’. Emphasis was put, at the time, on teaching the history of American blacks in public schools all over the country, as Woodson believed that the teaching of black history was paramount to the survival of the black culture. ‘Negro History Week’ later evolved into Black History Month, honoring the accomplishments of black Americans in all areas of endeavor.

The Black History Month movie nights were kicked off with the screening of Selma (2014), directed by Ava DuVernay, a movie which sheds light on important events of the Civil Rights Movement, mainly during the year of 1965. The central character is one of the leading activists of that era, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who believed that peaceful protest is the most effective way to go against a racist and unjust society.

A second screening focused on the movie Loving (2016), inspired by the documentary The Loving Story. The movie portrays the life of Richard and Mildred, an interracial couple who gets married in Virginia, in times when anti-miscegenation laws are still in place. Their story served in the Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court legal case, resulting in a landmark decision that invalidated the laws prohibiting interracial marriage in 1967.

The third week of February saw Empire State College co-hosting the panel discussion Black Music 101 with the American Center of the U.S. Embassy in Prague. Four African-American musicians living in Prague were invited to discuss the global influence of African-American music and oral traditions: Ms. Tonya Graves, our own Juwana Jenkins, Haitian-American poet Bendjhi, and rapper Johnny Youngblood. The guest speakers discussed their relationship to so-called Black Music, their understanding of the roots of their respective disciplines, and their experiences as African-Americans living in Prague.

Finally, to conclude Black History Month, a movie screening took place within the Empire State College course Power and Inequality during the last week of February. The movie chosen was Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th (2016), which focuses on disclosing the gruesome U.S. prison-industrial complex and its connection to the long history of racial inequality in the country. 

These events mark the first celebration of Black History Month at the University of New York in Prague and SUNY/Empire State College International Education in Prague, and we look forward to continuing the tradition. If you did not get a chance to participate in this year’s events, we strongly recommend that you watch these movies and join us next year!


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