In February, the University of St. Thomas will host poets, comedians, actors and writers exploring Black history through a monthlong series of events that’s as much about the performance as it is about the audience.
Student Diversity and Inclusion Services Assistant Director Nayely Becerra Castillo said artists uniquely engage audiences in activism, so this programming is an important part of advancing the institution’s equity goals.
"We all have a part to play in creating a more equitable community,” Becerra Castillo said. “These performances and experiences are a call to be vulnerable because you're in the room. You have to check yourself and say, ‘I’m just going to receive this person, and I'm going to allow myself to take them in.’”
On Feb. 14, BLACKOUT, a Twin Cities-based improv group with all Black members, will use comedy and performance to help the St. Thomas community grapple with the difficult questions around race, identity and politics.
“They know how to have an honest conversation with differing points of views amongst themselves and the audience,” Becerra Castillo said. “Improv generally needs the audience; it's very reciprocal. So, it’s an opportunity for us to laugh with people who we might not have otherwise.”
Comedy will also help highlight Black history with a Feb. 15 showing of “The One and Only Dick Gregory,” a documentary that examines the life and career of stand-up comic, activist and pop culture icon Dick Gregory. Using clips from HBO’s popular series “A Black Lady Sketch Show," Dr. Constance Bailey, assistant professor of English at the University of Arkansas, will explore the intersectional nature of Black women humorists and comics.
Foundational to the beginnings of Black History Month celebrations are the stories and history that hasn't been heard, and in some cases, hasn't been told. On Feb. 9, Yohuru Williams, PhD, founding director of St. Thomas’ Racial Justice initiative, will share a virtual keynote on the untold stories and legacy of the Black Panther Party. Participants will be entered into a drawing to win a signed copy of Williams’ book The Black Panthers: Portraits from an Unfinished Revolution.
History that’s closer to home, redlining, racial covenants and housing discrimination in the Twin Cities, is chronicled in the Feb. 17 theatre performance “Not For Sale.” Members of the St. Thomas community will travel to St. Paul’s History Theatre, and Becerra Castillo herself acts in the production.
Poetry in many forms will also help students explore and respond to Black history and experiences. Author and poet Michael Kleber Diggs will host a reading and Q&A. The month will close with a Slam Poetry week, with a writer’s workshop, performance by National Poetry Slam champion Kyle Tran Myhre and a student poetry contest.
As a university, the demographics at St. Thomas are always changing with new students every year. While the progress toward equity is ongoing, during Black History Month, Becerra Castillo emphasized presence.
“When people show up to these events, students of color notice who’s in the room, and who is not,” Becerra Castillo said. “It’s an expression of who’s willing to continue growing and learning and seeing each other as our neighbor. I think that's what truly matters.”
See a full listing of St. Thomas' events on Tommie Link by searching "Black History Month."