Rollins Honors Black History Month with Celebration and Reflection

February 01, 2022

By Elsa Wenzel

Members of the Black Student Union gather on the steps of Kathleen W. Rollins Hall in late January in anticipation of kicking off Black History Month at Rollins.
Members of the Black Student Union gather on the steps of Kathleen W. Rollins Hall in late January in anticipation of kicking off Black History Month at Rollins.Photo by Courtesy Black Student Union.

African American history is the story of America. As the timeline moves forward, Rollins is celebrating Black History Month through myriad opportunities for education and reflection.

Celebrating figures as varied as poet Maya Angelou and immunologist Kizzmekia “Kizzy” Corbett, Rollins observes Black History Month as a time to look back and move forward. A rich lineup of events on campus and in the community offer a panoply of ways to honor and celebrate cultural heritage with provocative conversations, lively art, local music, targeted coursework, and delectable cuisine.

“Enough credit will never be given to the ones who have come before us to ensure that we have the rights as others,” says Robert Whetstone, student outreach coordinator in Rollins’ Center for Inclusion & Campus Involvement. “Our students continue to make change here at Rollins and in the community.”

From student-led events to academic introspection, explore a few of the ways Rollins is honoring the triumphs and struggles of African Americans throughout U.S. history.

Tables of books and films celebrating Black History Month at Rollins’ Olin Library.

Olin Library

Throughout February, tables near the Olin Library main entrance will be packed with book and film titles related to Black history—from sci-fi works such as Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower and graphic novels like Black Panther to noteworthy films like Judas and the Black Messiah, The Color Purple, and The Wiz.

Be sure to look up from the tables to take in the “Pathway to Diversity” posters created by Rollins history majors in 2019 that feature tales of early activism on campus, the first generation of African American athletes at Rollins, and the creation of the Black Student Union. These are a quick study for anyone seeking to understand the College’s evolution to its current embrace of diversity, equity, and inclusion within the context of regional history.

From there, a display table invites you to weigh in on the question, “How can you change the world with your words?” before wandering over to the library’s meeting room to explore the exhibit, Futures: The Making, Un-Making, and Re-Making of the African Diaspora.

Rollins students discussing African art history.
Photo by Scott Cook.

Critical Coursework

The contributions of people of African descent in the U.S. reach across every subject and field. In sociology professor Matt Nichter’s Introduction to African & African American Studies class, students learn about the sweeping histories and cultures of Africa and the African diaspora. This is a core course in the eponymous minor, which incorporates an analysis of historical and contemporary issues facing Africans and African Americans by integrating international perspectives, service learning, and traditional archival research.

In addition to overseeing the Rollins STEM Instagram—which is currently highlighting 10 Black women in STEM you should know—biology professor Brendaliz Santiago Narvaez is integrating into her curriculum stories of Black scientists like Kizzy Corbett, who was instrumental in the development of the COVID-19 vaccine, and Ruth Ella Moore, the first African-American woman to earn a PhD in the natural sciences. Biology majors Annie Sterling ’23 and Tiara Ashurst ’23 are managing the Instagram account, seeking to foster a sense of community and belonging in STEM thanks to a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. 

Education professor Jenni Sanguiliano Lonski’s course, Social Studies for Elementary Schools, is exploring how teachers can weave African-American history into their kindergarten-to-6th-grade curriculum year-long. Projects include “One Minute History” presentations that will examine overlooked people and events in American history, with an eye to civil rights in Central Florida, as well as explorations of geography, maps, and charts that will encourage perspectives from African nations and the global South.

A student takes in a piece of art in the "Ally is a Verb" exhibition at Rollins Museum of Art.
Photo by Scott Cook.

Art Encounters: Ally is a Verb

  • When: January 15 – May 8
  • Where: Rollins Museum of Art

Rollins’ most beloved alumnus, Fred Rogers ‘51 '74H, famously encouraged people to “look for the helpers.” Choosing to be an ally with and for other people is one way Tars can demonstrate this spirit of service and community. This art exhibition explores the concept of what it means to walk alongside people from marginalized groups, using the works of famed artists like Nick Cave, Nina Chanel Abney, and Yoan Capote. A sound booth in the gallery invites museum goers to share and record their personal experiences.

Mpule Kwelagobe, an African leader in gender equality, global peace, public health, and sustainable development, speaking at Rollins.
Photo by Scott Cook.

Campus Celebrations

Film Screening and Discussion: MLK/FBI

  • When: Thursday, February 17, 6:30 p.m.
  • Where: Kathleen W. Rollins Hall

This explosive 2020 documentary uses newly declassified documents to reveal how J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, considering Martin Luther King Jr. a dangerous Communist influence, sought to discredit and destroy him. The African & African-American Studies program hosts the screening and discussion.

Soul Food Sunday

  • When: Sunday, February 20, 4-6 p.m.
  • Where: Rollins Museum of Art patio

Fill up on delectable soul food like black-eyed peas, stewed greens, and johnnycakes while soaking up the Florida sunshine and engaging in meaningful conversations around the importance of food in African-American culture at this Black Student Union-sponsored event.

Movie Night: Black Panther

  • When: Monday, February 21 | Time TBD
  • Where: Mills Lawn

Sprawl out on a blanket on Mills Lawn to cheer on on T’Challa with friends. This wildly popular Marvel movie is being shown in partnership between the Black Student Union and the Center for Inclusion & Campus Involvement.

Professionalism Day

  • When: Thursday, February 24, 12 p.m.
  • Where: Kathleen W. Rollins Hall

The Black Student Union is hosting a session to polish your resume and headshot with the experts from the Center for Career & Life Planning.

Unveiling of American Library Installation

  • When: Thursday, February 24, 4:30 p.m.
  • Where: Kathleen W. Rollins Hall

Get the first glimpse of this highly anticipated permanent exhibition by celebrated British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare. This masterwork features 600 books bound in Dutch wax fabric and embossed with the names of poets, philosophers, and historians whose families were part of the Great Migration of the 20th century.

This Great Migration piece of Shonibare’s American Library series represents the fruits of research by Rollins students, led by history professor Claire Strom. They explored primary sources in spring 2021 to determine the names adorning the books. The exhibit will be accompanied by a digital resource that provides biographical information for the 600 names, which includes luminaries such as Ralph Ellison and Maya Angelou as well as detractors like Mary McLeod Bethune who advocated for improving conditions in the South rather than migrating elsewhere.

The work was commissioned for the Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art by Barbara ’68 and Ted Alfond ’68.

Skate Night

  • When: Friday, February 25, 3-5 p.m.
  • Where: McKean Gym

Lace up your skates and slide your way across McKean Gym for an afternoon of movement and music with friends from the Black Student Union.

A mural in the historically Black neighborhood of Hannibal Square.
Photo by Scott Cook.

Community Celebration

1619 Festival

Named for the year the first enslaved African people came to Virginia, the three-day 1619 Festival is one of the area’s most anticipated celebrations of Black History Month, and it’s just steps from campus. Events kick off with the Community Collage opening ceremony, an art exhibition featuring works by artists from the Hannibal Square Heritage Center Folk & Urban Art Festival.

Additional events include the 5K Rebel Run through the historic neighborhoods of Hannibal Square, yoga classes sponsored by 2004 Track and Field Olympic Gold Medalist and certified yoga instructor Moushaumi Robinson, a host of live music performances, and the third anniversary of Winter Park’s weekly SOKO Marketplace, a collection of local Black vendors.

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