USC kicks off Black History Month with powerful messages
Social Impact

USC kicks off Black History Month with powerful messages

Hybrid event at Tommy’s Place draws more than 200 people to watch livestreamed program and dine on Ethiopian food.

February 03, 2023 Greg Hernandez

Trojan football player Shane Lee wanted to participate in USC’s Black History Month kickoff event on Wednesday due to its theme of “Reclamation Through Resistance, Rebirth Through Reconciliation.”

Black History Month logo“We see the fight, the pain and the struggle that we’ve had to endure, and the aftermath that we now live through,” Lee said during the livestreamed program presented by the Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs. “As we continue this noble pursuit of liberty, justice and freedom, it’s important that we draw from our rich history.”

Lee, a graduate student working on his master’s degree in gerontology at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, was among the speakers featured during a program that included an in-person viewing party. More than 200 students, faculty and staff gathered at Tommy’s Place on the University Park Campus to watch the virtual screening while enjoying Ethiopian food from Rosalind’s, a popular USC alum-owned restaurant in Los Angeles.

In her remarks, USC President Carol L. Folt highlighted that this year’s Black History Month celebrations come at a time when a growing number of conservative-led U.S. states and school districts have introduced measures or passed laws to limit how race and discrimination can be discussed in public school classrooms.

USC Black History Month kickoff event: Jamilla Johnson sings “Lift Every Voice And Sing"
Jamilla Johnson sings “Lift Every Voice And Sing” during the USC Black History Month kickoff event. (Video screenshot)

USC “will continue to enhance our scholarship and honor Black voices,” Folt told the audience.

“Learning the lessons of history feels especially important right now when the move to curtail Black studies, Black history and even the discussion of Black experience is growing in universities and school systems all across the country,” Folt said. “We won’t do that here at USC.”

U.S. Rep. Sydney Kamlager-Dove, a USC alumna, shared with viewers her experience just last month while on a tour of the Capitol before officially being sworn in as a freshman member of the House.

“While you’re struck by the tall ceilings and beautiful architecture, I was also acutely aware that I was surrounded by artwork commemorating enslavers, that this country was not made for Black and brown people — even though we built it,” she said.

‘It doesn’t matter if it was made for us or not’

After being sworn in near a statue of Founding Father James Madison with her mother by her side, Kamlager-Dove realized, “it doesn’t matter if it was made for us or not.

“We are here, and we are not going to be ignored,” she said. “We are reclaiming what is ours using truth. We are fighting for economic justice for our people to uplift our communities by acknowledging the legacy of slavery, fighting for education — especially education on Black history and the Black experience — [and] fighting for our right to vote.”

Other program speakers included USC Department of Public Safety Chief Lauretta Hill, Keck School of Medicine of USC Chair and Clinical Professor of Family Medicine Jehni Robinson, USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism Associate Professor Miki Turner and the Rev. Brandon Harris, associate dean of the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life.

“May we remember those Black Trojans who have gone before us,” Harris said in his opening prayer. “As we remember the lineage and the stories and the contributions of Black persons in the United States, we also commit ourselves to creating a future.”

USC Black History Month kickoff: Celebrating ‘Blackness and the history of Blackness’

USC Annenberg student Alexandria Gee said after the program that she was “excited to celebrate Blackness and the history of Blackness.”

“It’s really nice to be able to celebrate how far we’ve come and how far we can actually go,” Gee said.

USC Price School of Public Policy graduate student Chris Gilchriest said he is happy to see Black History Month events growing in scope at USC.

I really appreciate being seen and being recognized on this campus.

Chris Gilchriest, USC Price student

“I really appreciate being seen and being recognized on this campus,” he said. “I love the ambience at this event because it’s so inclusive. It’s nice to be a part of it.”

The program began with a soaring rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (often called the Black national anthem) by USC Thornton School of Music student Jamilla Johnson. Later, USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences student Shandela Contreras read her original poem “Quilted Legacy,” which drew applause from the crowd.

Black History Month, officially recognized nationally since 1976, celebrates the achievements of Black Americans and recognizes their central role in U.S. history — from activists and civil rights pioneers to leaders in culture, science, politics and more.

The campuswide series of Black History Month events throughout February will culminate in a “Family Reunion”-themed celebration at Alumni Park on Feb. 24.