I have to be honest: Black History Month is both rewarding and discouraging to me as a student leader on the Fort Lewis College campus.
I love celebrating Black culture and what it means for the Black community to truly excel. Yet I feel challenged to find new ways of getting people’s attention about why Black Lives Matter.
I know that sometimes for others this kind of diversity education is only visibly important during Black History Month. Because of COVID-19, the events of Black History Month have lost much of their nuance; however, our Black Student Union and Black History Month Committee have worked tirelessly to create ways in which the celebration can continue.
In honoring Martin Luther King Jr. this year, rather than hosting a student-led march as in previous years, we decided to facilitate a candlelight vigil instead, in addition to our very first burning ceremony. A burning ceremony is a traditional ritual meant to purify and release the mistakes of the past. As a transformative ceremony, it’s meant to symbolize the acceptance of new beginnings, knowledge and the possibility of new paths. The vigil was held Feb. 5 and was attended by about 20 students, faculty and staff.
I worked with the Black History Month Committee, which primarily consists of a diverse group of staff. Those who came to the event varied in age, ethnicity and position in the community. The socially distanced crowd stood at the clock tower, stiff in the snow-laden breeze. I announced that the burning ceremony would commence and that the fireplace hidden within the staircase of the Student Union was our secondary location. It was then that the mood became far more celebratory.
With such a hard year behind us, as an organization and as a community we are taking this time to go forth free of grudges, resentment, negativity, hate, and anger.
I asked those present – community members, activists, and leaders – to use that night as a way to leave the past behind us as we confidently strode into a new semester and new year. Lastly, the candlelight vigil was meant to serve as a reminder that, although we’re lucky enough to live in a slightly progressive era, we as people have so much work left to do.
Martin Luther King Jr. was first and foremost a humanitarian. He showed us what it means to live in a society where inequality is common and that all it takes is just a little compassion to improve the greater world around us. He celebrated the power of the collective, relished in the work of solidarity and was killed for his belief in love and unity.
That night we respectfully honored him and his exasperating journey for human rights. As the young innovative leaders we are today, we intend to keep his agenda and legacy alive and to remain in high spirits. I asked that we continue with heads held high on his path toward equity, diversity and inclusion.
With hearts like Martin’s and armor like Malcom X’s, this generation will not cease until we see change for all. I asked that we work on making a world more positive for the next generations to come – culturally, socially and environmentally.
We must be willing to walk away from the lure of global warfare and instead fill our hearts with the work of human welfare, as we have the ability to change the hateful world we know.
As the ceremony concluded I chose to take a moment of silence, to pay respect to those we’ve lost so brutally and violently on our journey to reconciliation and peace. I asked that we bow our heads and for a moment let the silence speak for those who cannot.
I asked that we never forget, in the words of Martin Luther King Jr., that “the time is always right to do what is right,”
Iyahna Calton is from Albuquerque, N.M. A junior at Fort Lewis College studying psychology and criminology with a minor in pre-law, she hopes to work with marginalized high school students as a counselor while attending law school. She is the president of the FLC Black Student Union.