Celebrating the History of African Peoples

African Peoples’ History Month kicked off at Fresno State on Monday with an opening ceremony that included a speech from President John Welty.

“As we begin to celebrate the African American history, it is an important event for our campus community to recognize that we all need to continue to get involved, not only learning about the history of African American people, but also to commit ourselves to continue addressing justice to make this a better campus community,” Welty said.

Paul Oliaro, vice president of student affairs, also spoke. His words resonated with the theme of diversity. He emphasized the positive strides made in civil rights and the hopeful future established by these advances.

Held in Fresno State’s Peace Garden, the noon event promoted awareness of African Peoples’ History Month, said Francine Oputa, director of the Central Valley Cultural Heritage Institute at Fresno State.  She spoke of the opening ceremony operating as both a celebration and a reminder of all African cultural events happening throughout the month. These events, two of which are Africana Culture Night and Poetry Jam, will precede the presentation of the Rosa Parks Awards on Feb. 28.

There are six categories for these awards. Campus organizations, students and faculty are contenders for the honors.

Viola Malone, one of last year’s Rosa Parks Award recipients, was student coordinator of the Monday’s opening ceremony. Malone emphasized the month as a time of cultural growth and understanding, for African Americans and people of other cultures.

The ceremony was coordinated by the Central Valley Cultural Heritage Institute. However, several campus organizations helped in creating the event, including Black Students United and the Jewish Studies Program.

African Peoples’ History Month, more commonly known as Black History Month, has been a recognized celebration since 1976. Since then many nations around the world designate a celebratory month recognizing the history of people of African descent. Such nations include the United Kingdom and Canada.  Thus, African Peoples’ History Month is not limited to the history of American people of African descent, but rather those people whose ancestors migrated either by force or will to other parts of the globe.

The celebration of African Peoples’ Month is often a source of debate among Americans. In the days leading up to February and throughout the month, editorials, blogs and news pieces discuss the positive impact or over-emphasis of the occasion.

DeAnna Reese, a Fresno State history and Africana studies professor, says the monthlong celebration still makes an impact on discussion about the culture, heritage and contributions of people of African descent.

“I think that African Americans are still but a footnote,” Reese said.  “What we need is the history of African people to be more integrated into American history.”

Indeed, Reese emphasized that the history celebrated throughout the month does not have to focus exclusively on Americans of African descent, but can and should include the celebration of all people of African descent, living across the globe.

Various events will take place throughout the month in response to the celebration of African Peoples’ History Month. Seven events are scheduled on campus, with other events taking place throughout the community.