BY STANLEY E. HENDERSON, Vice Chancellor, Enrollment Management and Student Life
I had a great night last Friday. We were coming up on the end of the Chinese New Year, the longest and most festive holiday in China, and our Chinese student community had invited everyone to a celebration. Some 300 folks attended—students, faculty, staff, community members. I couldn’t help but notice how many different cultures, races, religions, and backgrounds were represented. All of us—whether African-American, European-American, Arab-American, Jewish, Muslim, or Christian were welcomed ; and we, in turn, participated in the celebration, learning a lot more about Chinese culture, including the naming of each year (this is the Year of the Dragon; I was born in the Year of the Pig).
I was struck by how this great event reflected our UM-Dearborn Community. Everyone was included by our Chinese students and, in turn, we all became participants in the Chinese culture. For everyone who was there, we have now included some of what’s important to our Chinese students in ourselves. It’s what sets us apart from those universities that are just institutions of higher education. Every day I see examples of how this campus takes the incredible diversities around us and includes them in something larger: a community that values, learns from, and works to support all of its members.
February gives us another one of those opportunities to grow our understanding of an inclusive community—through participation in Black History Month. Back in the 1920’s, when American history books were shamefully silent on the contributions of African-Americans to the rich tapestry of the American nation, historian and educator Carter G. Woodson created “Negro History Week.” He chose February to honor two of the greatest champions of freedom for American slaves—both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass were born in that month. In 1976 the week became “Black History Month.” (NAACP Web site)
Why is Black History Month such an important part of our UM-Dearborn Community? We have to remember how excluded African-Americans were for much of American history. It wasn’t just in the 1920’s that African-American contributions to our nation were ignored. When I was growing up, there was nothing in our history textbooks about the Tuskegee Airmen or about Garrett Morgan, who invented the traffic signal.
What’s more, when I was growing up in a “Sundown Town” in Illinois, African-Americans were unable to vote in most areas of the South. Major League Baseball players couldn’t stay in hotels where white players were welcomed. And our televisions showed Black Americans being attacked by police dogs, having fire hoses turned on them, being spat upon by fellow Americans who didn’t think African-Americans deserved to be full citizens. African-Americans fought to be included in the American community. Some of them died in that fight. Black History Month helps all of us, regardless of race or culture, focus on inclusion: including African-Americans who contributed and were never recognized or celebrated, including African-American culture and traditions, but also including all those who might be persecuted for their faith, or their race, or their religion, or those who might be forgotten, or left behind or closed out.
In this issue of the Michigan Journal, you will find information on Black History Month. Take time to engage with the information. Support the programs scheduled by the Black Student Union this month. Plan to attend the Voices of Triumph Gospel Choir concert on March 9. And, most importantly, don’t make Black History Month just one month. Inclusion and community don’t stop and start with one day or one month.
I have said before that we must practice community in order to nurture it. And practice, like anything that requires commitment, whether it be academics, leadership, sports, or relationships, is hard work. The best way to practice community here at the University of Michigan-Dearborn is to ensure that every person is included as a member of, a participant in, a contributor to our community of higher education. As members of this Community, let’s take advantage of programs such as the Chinese students’ celebration of New Year and Black History Month. But don’t stop there. Remember to include in your own learning and development things from Women’s History Month (March), Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15), LGBT History Month (October), Global Fest (March), and all the other programs our clubs and organizations, departments and colleges bring to us. And practicing community means speaking up when you hear someone being excluded, “Hey, we don’t do that at UM-Dearborn.” Or just say, “Good morning,” when you pass people on the sidewalk. I’ll be doing it. Join me.
Vice Chancellor Stanley E. Henderson