Black History Month: Resilience, Creativity and Cultural Legacy

Stony Brook celebrates the theme of  “African Americans and the Arts”

The history of African Americans and the arts has woven a tapestry rich with threads of resilience, creativity and a profound cultural legacy. African Americans have utilized various art forms as a means of expression, empowerment and cultural preservation.

Throughout February, Stony Brook University celebrates Black History Month and the theme of “African Americans and the Arts” through a series of events student-focused and interactive events for the campus community.

“The importance of celebrating Black History Month on campus is the ability to create spaces that acknowledge and create a sense of belonging for those within the Pan-African Diaspora,” said Donna-Lee Mahabeer, director of Diversity, Intercultural and Community Engagement (DICE) and co-chair of the Black History Month committee. “It is also a wonderful educational opportunity for those who have an appreciation for the culture to learn more and interact with the varying aspects of the diaspora. We are looking to create opportunities for engagement, belonging, inclusivity and cross-cultural education.”

Across campus, faculty are studying and teaching the ways in which the arts are influenced by African American history and culture.

Kevin holt
Kevin Holt

Kevin Holt, assistant professor of ethnomusicology in the Department of Music, teaches graduate and undergraduate courses focused on the music, culture and socio-musical interventions of hip-hop.

African Americans have played an instrumental role in shaping genres that have reverberated globally. When Holt joined the Stony Brook faculty three years ago, he was the first to specialize in hip-hop, and the addition of classes focused on hip-hop and the hip-hop culture.

“Sometimes a course about hip-hop feels a little more inviting, or a little less intimidating,” Holt said. “They soon find out that there is just as much rigor, and they will come away with foundational music analysis tools that they can take with them and apply to other types of music analysis.”

Holt explained the foundations of hip-hop in African American culture as a way to express political views, but to also find joy and to celebrate the African American community.

“Hip-hop expresses a type of performed protest, but in spite of these circumstances, there is a type of jubilation,” Holt said. “No matter what African Americans have gone through in this nation, there have always been people who found time in places to build joy, to build celebration. There’s a certain type of resilience and having the audacity to conceive of joy, even when you are tired or dealing with oppression…to find spaces where you can express connection and have some fun.”

Holt will serve as moderator for A Soundtrack for Black Imagination, a listening-based exploration of philosophy, ideology, and metacognition through the frame of black experience guided by Regina N. Bradley, professor of English and African Diaspora Studies at Kennesaw State University, and La Marr Jurelle Bruce, professor of American Studies at the University of Maryland. In this second installment of the Soundtrack for Blackness series, Bradley and Bruce will explore imagination “as creativity for its own sake” and facilitate an exploration of imagination as a catalyst for radical black thought. The event will take place March 5 in the Humanities Institute.

Jazmen moore
Jazmen Moore

Jazmen Moore is an IDEA Fellow in Black Diaspora Studies in the Department of Africana Studies whose research focuses on Black girls’ refusals, consent-based learning and chosen learning spaces. As a community-engaged artist, educator, and scholar, Moore’s experiences as a Black woman from the Midwest, and an educator raised on Anishinaabe homelands in Lansing, Michigan, have deepened her commitment to cultivating justice-based learning experiences in schools and out-of-school contexts.

Moore described the importance of the arts as a way of storytelling throughout the African American community, and echoed Holt’s sentiments of arts as a means of protest and resistance.

“The arts are important to African American culture because across time they have represented/continue to represent a celebration of Black culture, mediums for storytelling, expressions of creativity and ingenuity, practices of Black joy, ways for us to preserve and pass down our history, and modes of protest and resistance,” she said. “In particular, I think of the legacy of Black writers whose work reflects the unapologetic beauty and multidimensionality of Black life and culture.”

The history of African Americans, she noted, is important for all students, “because Black history is inherently worthy of being shared, studied, and celebrated, and also because Black history is American history. Without knowledge of the history and legacy of Black Americans, students (both young and old) are left with an incomplete understanding of American history, including the good, the bad, and the ugly.”

Moore added that learning about the history of African Americans in a holistic and asset-based way “is important because it has the power to affirm the identity of Black students, and to help non-Black students build empathy, expand their knowledge, and learn about possible shared histories of care, resistance, and/or coalition building between Black communities and their own.”

Moore looks forward to teaching a class this semester (AFH 390.03), focused on Black girlhood and education. While students are from a variety of majors and backgrounds, Moore seeks to create a space where students discuss the creativity and brilliance of Black girls, and to recognize that discussions focused on Black history and the experiences of African Americans must occur year-round, not just within Black History Month.

“My students and I are working collectively to cultivate a classroom space where Black history, theory, and art are discussed beyond the month of February, where we can all learn generously with and from one another, and where, through our practice of intentionally centering the stories and experiences of Black girls, we’re also thinking about solidarity and collective liberation,” she said.

Visit SB Engaged for the full list of events.

— Beth Squire

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