‘For Us By Us’: Sonoma State University kicks off Black History month with celebration of Black art

The event was well-attended, with about 40 students filling seats and spilling into the hallway of the student union’s second floor.|

Chatter and the warm smell of soul food filled Sonoma State’s HUB Cultural Center on Thursday as students, faculty and school officials gathered to kick off their celebration of Black History Month.

The event was well-attended, with about 40 students filling seats and spilling into the hallway of the student union’s second floor. After listening to speakers, they enjoyed cornbread, green beans, fried chicken and mac and cheese provided by Red Rose Catering, a Santa Rosa Black-owned business.

One of the speakers, Patrick Johnson, an assistant professor in American Multicultural Studies, spoke to the students about the theme of this year’s celebrations: “Black Art: For Us By Us.”

He started his speech by saying one of his favorite wind-down activities is listening to R&B music as he walks the aisles of Trader Joe’s, a confession that received a lot of laughter and applause from the crowd.

Johnson, who is a favorite of many students in the room, teaches a class on the history of blackface in film, a deep and heavy topic that he said is incredibly important to teach, but extremely unpleasant for him to talk or even think about.

The first Black History Month, an acknowledgment of historical and current oppression, was in 1976, the brainchild of scholar Carter G. Woodson, who wanted to celebrate the contributions of Black people every February.

That’s why Johnson said it’s important for Black students, who are a small minority of SSU’s population, to allow themselves to enjoy Black art, and not to worry about how others perceive them and their enjoyment of that art.

“We can’t be consumed by how other people see our joy,” he said.

This was a topic that really resonated with two Black Student Union leaders, Chance Lujan, 23, and Ashante Lacy, 21.

“Black art is something I wish I would have gotten into earlier,” said Lujan. “I feel Black art has a lot of love and attention to detail.”

He added that the Black community at SSU is small on campus, so it was heartening to see so many students come together and attend their event.

According to Sonoma State data, 2.6% of the student population were Black/African American in Fall 2023.

Sonoma State President Ming-Tung “Mike” Lee sat among a group of students, eating and chatting with them after he gave a speech about the importance of the university’s role in fostering appreciation for Black and minority communities, and righting historical wrongs.

“I am absolutely excited about the great turnout,” said Lee in an interview with The Press Democrat. “It’s nice to provide a room and space to learn about history and the ways to better life in Sonoma County.”

Lee added that when it comes to any heritage month, whether that’s Black History Month or Asian Pacific Heritage Month, it’s an opportunity to celebrate the contributions of that group and to be reminded we are all human beings, regardless of ethnicity or cultural background, and that “creating a good community for everybody should be the goal.”

“The food, the music, the arts, the poetry ― this is what brings people together, no matter what your background is,” Lee said. “I think the university happens to have the space and intellectual assets from our professors, our students (and) our staff that are able to come together in one place.”

One senior, Tia Booker, also presented a slideshow about a few “hidden figures” in Black history.

Booker highlighted leaders including Dr. Carter G. Woodson, “the father of black history," Madam C.J. Walker, an African American entrepreneur and philanthropist who advocated for the ending of lynchings in the south, and Stokely Carmichael, a prominent organizer of the global Pan-African movement and originator of the ”Black power“ slogan.

The slideshow will be on a TV in the Hub Cultural Center for the rest of the month, she said.

Sonoma State has a packed month full of events that provide opportunities for students, staff, faculty and members of the local community to come together and celebrate Black achievements and art, including a traveling Black History exhibit on Feb. 8.

To learn more about Sonoma State’s Black History events, visit diversity.sonoma.edu/celebrating-heritage-and-identity/2024-black-history-month-celebration.

You can reach Staff Writer Alana Minkler at 707-526-8531 or alana.minkler@pressdemocrat.com. On X (Twitter,) @alana_minkler.

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