Throughout the month of February, a.k.a. African Heritage Month, St. John’s students have engaged in enlightening events that presented them with an opportunity to gain a better knowledge of African history.
An event that was one of the most educational was a visit to the New York Historical Society where students viewed an exhibit that explored how slavery and the slave trade contributed to making New York one of the wealthiest cities in the world.
“The exhibit was phenomenal,” said Damien Duchamp, the director of Campus Activities. “We had a turnout of about 22 students as well as eight administrators which was a surprise.”
An event entitled “The Anatomy of Prejudice” was another highlight of the first half of African Heritage Month. Jane Elliot, an anti-racism activist who developed the Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes exercise, which demonstrates the impact of discrimination, spoke to over 100 students.
“Students spoke with her for nearly an hour after she was finished with her presentation,” said Duchamp. “Getting students there is the problem, but those that attend always have a positive experience.”
Also held was the “2nd Annual Rosa Parks Day,” sponsored by the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, which allowed students to reflect on the life and impact Parks had on the African-American community.
“We had about 50 participants,” said Patricia Ambroise, the co-chair of African Heritage Month. “It also stressed the importance of an education and to not be complacent with the label we have been given.”
An important trend that has surfaced through all of these events is the variety of both the students attending and the events themselves.
“The events we’ve held so far have been better attended than I’ve seen since I was a freshman,” Ambroise said. “Additionally, the programs have been more diverse than I’ve ever seen.”
The importance of these events cannot be understated.
“Only through dialogue and interpretation do we learn, whether it be through a cultural or leadership program,” Duchamp said. “Cultural programs allow people to get out of their comfort zones.”
As the month of February comes to a close, there are still important events coming up such as 16th Annual Black and White Ball on Feb. 24, the conclusion of “Roots” on Feb. 27 and the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Dinner on Feb 28, closing the month.
Despite the overall success the programs have enjoyed so far, Duchamp sees room for improvement in the future.
“We need to do a better job of getting other students to these programs,” he said. “By not attending, students are missing something very special.”