Celebrate Black History Month in C-U


By Katie Southon, SCS Advising Leader

February is Black History Month, a time to pay tribute and honor the contributions and sacrifices by generations of African Americans. I encourage you to explore the resources and exhibits around campus and develop a richer understanding and appreciation of Black History Month. I’ve compiled a list of places to see and events to attend, but also know that this is not an exhaustive list. Keep an eye out for campus newsletters, event postings, and other events in the Champaign-Urbana community.

Learn about St. Elmo Brady

The first African American to receive a PhD in chemistry did so here at the University of Illinois. He published groundbreaking work and went on to build chemistry programs at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, including Tuskegee University, Howard University, Fisk University, and Tougaloo College, developing curricula and raising funds for program development. He has been featured as “man of the month” in The Crisis, the magazine of the NAACP, honored by the Bulletin for the History of Chemistry, and had a documentary made about his life, titled “Twenty Whites & One ‘Other’”. In 2019, the American Chemical Society honored him with a National Historic Chemical Landmark, located in Noyes laboratory right outside the doors of Noyes 100. I urge you to stop by the plaque, watch the documentary, or read more at https://chemistry.illinois.edu/spotlight/alumni/brady-st-elmo-1884-1966.  

Explore resources at the Bruce D. Nesbitt African American Cultural Center

Bruce Delmar Nesbitt was a Champaign resident and employee at the University of Illinois, including a position as the Afro-American Cultural director, which he held for 22 years. He orchestrated flourishing programs and services, including OMNIMOV Dance Troupe, the Black Congratulatory Ceremony, and the WBML radio station, created under his direction. All of his contributions have left a lasting impact on the community and many are still happening on campus to this day. The cultural center hosts events year-round to celebrate and connect African American students, faculty, and staff. A number of events for Black History Month are listed on their website, including Love Jones Poetry night on February 13th, Food for the Soul event Speaking and Singing Justice and Shared Humanity: The Music of Black Americans as Lens, Language, Vision, and Hope on February 21st, and Trivia Tuesday on February 27th. Attend an event or read more about the history, mission, and goals of the center at https://bnaacc.illinois.edu/events/black-history-month.

Take in music at the library

On February 10th, the Urbana Library will be hosting young musicians who have studied blues, jazz, gospel, Rhythm & Blues, and soul. The Banks, Bridgewater, and Lewis Fine Arts Academy was founded in 2005 to supplement music education and has been thriving ever since. On February 18th, Reginald Lewis and Friends will perform a jazz set inspired by Philadelphia’s vibrant jazz scene. Reginald Lewis, whose grandfather Bootsie Barnes contributed greatly to the genre, will carry on the legacy through this celebration. Enjoy either or both free musical events at the library and learn more at https://urbanafreelibrary.org/events.

Visit the Black Joy Project at the Spurlock Museum

The Black Joy project opened in early February and will be open all year long to celebrate Black women and girls through a focus on resilience through food, performances, crafts, and more. Programs like the Black Business Expo and Walking With My Ancestors: Cape Coast Castle by Ama Oforiwaa Aduonum take place throughout February. The curators of the project are Dr. Ruby Mendenhall, the Associate Dean for Diversity and Democratization of Health Innovation of the Carle Illinois College of Medicine and Florence Adibu, a Research Scientist at the Carle Illinois College of Medicine. The current largest exhibit, entitled “Humanity and Joy” showcases Black mothers and their children photographed together. Admission is free to the Spurlock Museum and more information about the Black Joy Exhibit can be found at https://www.spurlock.illinois.edu/exhibits/profiles/black-joy.html

For additional events and activities celebrating Black History Month, be sure to check  ChambanaMoms. I hope you choose to take February to reflect and learn something new regarding Black history. Between chemistry accomplishments, learning experiences, and appreciation of the arts, there is something for everyone coming up this month.