Celebrate Black History Month

Houghton lift bridge at sunrise
Houghton lift bridge at sunrise
"I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality." Martin Luther King Jr.

Black History Month is celebrated every February to shine a spotlight on notable black men and women. At Michigan Tech, the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, black student organizations and the Van Pelt and Opie Library are partnering to bring that spotlight to campus.

“Black History Month allows everyone to show appreciation for all the work that black engineers and scientists have done to advance every STEM-related field,” says Bruce Brunson Jr., president of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). 

Like George Washington Carver, the botanist who discovered dozens of uses for plants previously considered useless, notably the peanut; Alice Ball, who found a way to extract chaulmoogra oil, used in the treatment of leprosy; Otis Boykin, who designed the artificial heart pacemaker control unit; Mark Dean, a computer scientist who led the team that designed the first one-gigahertz computer processor chip; and Jane C. Wright, who pioneered the use of methotrexate to treat breast and skin cancer.

Then there’s Percy Julian, a research chemist and pioneer in the chemical synthesis of drugs from plants. His work laid the foundation for the development of cortisone treatments and birth control pills. Michigan Tech honors undergraduates who have demonstrated leadership in promoting social equality, as well as racial, ethnic and cultural understanding, with the Percy Julian Leadership Award.

“Black History Month shines a light on the importance of diverse thought,” says Kellie Raffaelli, director of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI).

“It’s also a time to celebrate our black students and their accomplishments,” adds Zack Rubinstein, CDI assistant director. 

Van Pelt and Opie Library

The library’s featured reads this month focus on black history. The university archives is conducting a social media campaign on Twitter and Facebook, posting content related to Black History Month, including images and other material on Michigan Tech history, the Copper Country and the Black Voices in the Copper Country project. The Black Voices project highlights the African American experience and social history in the western Upper Peninsula. It won the Historical Society of Michigan’s 2016 Special Programs/Events Award.

At the end of Black History Month, Lindsay Hiltunen, university archivist, plans to put out another call for oral history participants in the ongoing Black Voices in the Copper Country project.

Black Student Organizations

The NSBE, Black Students Association (BSA), and the Society of Intellectual Sisters (SIS) also have programs planned for Black History Month.   

The BSA will serve a Soul Food Lunch on Friday, February 23 at the Memorial Union Building. Members are also going to local schools to talk about STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and the accomplishments of black people in those fields. 

NSBE is sponsoring an exhibit of black empowerment posters in the library throughout February and is working with BSA and SIS to present a local showing of the film “Black Panther.” For information on the date and time to view the film, contact Nathan Shaiyen, BSA president, at nshaiyen@mtu.edu or Brunson at bbrunson@mtu.edu.

Other events include:

  • Tuesday, February 20, noon, MUB Alumni Lounge A—Diverse Dialogue Series sponsored by CDI, “Changing the Conversation: People of Color in STEM.”
  • Wednesday, February 21, 7:30 p.m., Rozsa Center for the Performing Arts—Social Justice Lecture Series sponsored by CDI, featuring Sharon Washington Risher, whose mother was killed in a church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.

“Black History Month to me is more a time to reflect,” says Nathan Shaiyen, BSA president, “to reflect on our past and see how far we have come, thinking about what we've had to struggle with and endure, but also thinking about what we've been able to achieve and overcome. Reflecting on the now and making sure that we are using our voices to speak about injustice, oppression and inequality, but also using our voices to reach out and inspire, educate and love others. Reflecting and looking to the future and making sure that generations to come will be able to live in a world where we are all one and are all able to co-exist in peace and love no matter who you are, where you come from, your race, sexual orientation or religious beliefs.” 

SIS president Terrianna Bradley has a Black History Month message for everyone at Michigan Tech. “Take a second or two out of your day to recognize that a lot of the things we rely on every day come from the minds and hands of black people,” she says.

"Challenge your peers when they make certain kinds of remarks, and challenge texts that ignore or misrepresent black accomplishments." 
Terrianna Bradley

Rubinstein calls Black History Month “a reality check.  We still have a lot of work to do.”

Bradley agrees. “It’s also a month to recognize the challenges we face as a society,” she says.

CDI’s Raffaelli is noticing an increase in social and political consciousness among today’s black students. “They are getting more involved in the national political and social justice landscape,” she says. “They are aware that social justice isn’t just about injustice against black people.

"Michigan Tech’s celebration of Black History Month shows that Michigan Tech cares,” Raffaelli goes on to say. “What’s important to black folks is important to Michigan Tech.”

Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, the University offers more than 125 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.