Celebration traces to 1920s ‘Negro History Week’

BY Vershay Burks



Black History Month comes to an end on Saturday, Feb. 28, but its purpose lives on throughout the year. 

“Sometimes I find it kind of odd that we have the shortest month to celebrate our black ancestry, but nevertheless it’s still our time to celebrate,” said student Gineara Hannah, a member of the Student Programming Board.

Much work goes into the celebration at the University of Detroit Mercy.

Black History Month is a chance to share the unheard narratives of people of African descent, according to Prof. Terri Laws, UDM interim director of African American Studies

“There are lots of people who still do not know the stories…,” Laws said. “There is at least this one opportunity for us to bring some of the stories to light.”

Laws said there are challenges.

“Some people certainly interpret our bringing marginalized stories to (their) attention as … divisiveness, when it’s certainly not intended that way at all,” she said. “It’s intended to bring to light things that we don’t know.”

In her AAS 2000 course, Critical Perspectives in African American Studies, Laws deals with the scholar, Carter G. Woodson, who came up with the idea of Negro History Week, which became Black History Month.

“In the course we begin with Woodson’s reasons for educating blacks and he’s talking about a time in which many blacks were not being educated,” she said. “He’s talking about 70 years after the legal end of slavery and he’s making the case for why education to blacks about blacks is important.”

Laws, who also teaches religious studies, said those reasons still stand.

“There is not a lot of this history being taught in K-12 schools,” she said.

Sandra Twymon-Orr, business operations coordinator at UDM’s Facility Operations, feels not as much emphasis is placed on blacks’ need to know black history.

“Being an African American I think every month is Black History Month, to be honest with you,” she said. “Sometimes I feel a little short changed that people want to put it down to be just one. I think that our culture and everyone should be recognized and given their proper respects every day.”

Twymon-Orr has been a part of a Black Greek Letter Organization (BLGO), Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, for over 30 years.

“Our motive and our mission is community service to not just African Americans but to all people, to eliminate any injustices to any and everyone out there,” she said. “As far as my sorority, that’s where they are in my life. Also my church is a part of the mission. It’s just to make sure that everyone is included regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation. Those are the things that I think about personally.”

Laws, who has also been a member of a BGLO for over 30 years (Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority), embraces a similar mission to uplift communities.

“I used my bachelor’s degree in business and my knowledge of African American history, literature and cultural expressions to build a career as we were trying to reach people from those communities,” said Laws.

There are many courses in African American studies.

“It was having an understanding from some of these courses – literature courses, sociology courses that focused on African American culture or African American cultural expression, and African American history – that helped me to understand part of what I was seeing in the social-political cultural environment and I took that into my work places,” she said.

UDM students have different views about Black History Month.

Abdallah Mwanaktwe is from Nigeria.

“In Africa we don’t have a Black History experience,” he said. “But over here most black people are the ones who care about black history,” said Mwanaktwe.

He said that if he hadn’t come to the United States, he would not have known Black History Month existed.

“It’s different but I like Black History Month,” he said.