Black History Month has been celebrated at Taylor since 1976.
We at The Echo Editorial Board believe it is important to explore the people that have shaped the way this history is commemorated, how the Black Student Union has evolved and what more could be done to fight inequity.
Before exploring though, one must first examine the deep roots of racial injustice at Taylor.
In the 1920s and ’30s, The Echo regularly published student opinion pieces related to the climate at the time. Race in America was often the topic of choice for writers.
“The contention for the social intermingling of the white and Black races of the United States in the name of Christian Ethics is a fallacy,” an edition of The Echo from November 1924 said. “Their temperament and antecedents are such that they do better separate, in separate residential sections when practical, in separate hotels, separate homes, and separate schools, if both races occupy the same community in large numbers.”
Although this is simply one example, this same posture permeated throughout the broader American context, as well as Taylor’s.
In 1974, amid domestic and local racial unrest, The Black Cultural Society (BCS) formed. At the time, there were 20 American ethnic Black students and five international Black students.
The organizational goal of the group was to promote an awareness of Black culture and its needs on Taylor’s campus.
By 1976, the group established the first Black History Week, which was celebrated in February. For comparison, Kent State University was the first American university to openly commemorate the African American story through a similar celebration in 1969.
The first celebration at Taylor consisted of invited guests speaking at chapel. Most of the speakers were involved in local ministry or were current students.
But, there were varied responses to these occasions.
An article titled, “Black History Week — Meaningful or a Sham?” by John Jones was published in The Echo soon after the week. Jones called for an increased disposition of empathy and openness within the student body regarding their new exposure to the African American story.
The week was also met with a push toward progress.
Philip Kamm Madeira, a student at the time, wrote an article in The Echo calling for more actions than a one-week acknowledgment. He called for courses exploring Black history and culture and expanded diversity within the faculty.
Students continued the club throughout the years.
Kim Barnett-Johnson attended Taylor from 1985 to 1989 and now works as the Vice-Chancellor of Academic Affairs at Ivy Tech Community College in Fort Wayne.
During her time at Taylor, she was a BCS leader and was involved with changing the name from Black Cultural Society to the Multicultural Student Organization (MSO). She also worked to plan Black History Month celebrations during her time in school.
“We decided to change the name so that students of all colors and cultures would feel welcome to participate in the organization,” Barnett-Johnson said. “I was actively involved (in Black History Month celebrations) and I am very proud to say that we did a lot as a student organization.”
MSO, now Black Student Union (BSU), provided a safe space for her to be authentically herself, in a somewhat isolating atmosphere, she said. Additionally, the leadership skills she acquired laid the foundation for her success at Taylor and beyond.
Now, she hopes that current Taylor students would continue to seek understanding of the Black story in America.
“It is very easy to stay within our individual comfort zones when it comes to issues surrounding diversity, equity and inclusion, but I would challenge every student to allow themselves to be uncomfortable on a regular basis, in order to gain a better understanding and appreciation for others that do not look like them,” Barnett-Johnson said.
Looking back at the opinions of the past, The Echo Editorial Board unequivocally denounces the postures and ideologies of those who pushed back against celebrating the culture and history of our Black brothers and sisters in Christ. With a deeper context and a more well-rounded view of the voices that have shaped Black History Month at Taylor, we believe the Taylor community can be more wholly loved.
In the next Our View, The Echo Editorial Board will explore what is being done to fight current racial injustice, and what more could be done.