King. Parks. X. Mandela.
Decades after their contributions to society, notable black figures in history are celebrated in America during the month of February, better known as Black History Month.
The nation-wide celebration of black history and culture also rings true in the Moscow community, with the University of Idaho’s Black Student Union (BSU) at the forefront of the conversation.
“The Black Student Union exists to promote cultural awareness, among other things. That’s one of the primary goals and aims,” said Izaiah Dolezal, a member of BSU.
Dolezal, a senior at UI, said his own life experiences led him on a path to pursue social justice across the globe, a drive he brings to BSU.
After growing up in Indiana, Dolezal lived in nearly every region of the United States and spent five years living in South Africa before going to high school in Coeur d’Alene. After starting school at UI, Dolezal spent a year studying in Spain.
“I’ve lived in different places and I’ve met all types of people, and that’s why I emphasize the commonality, because it’s there and I’ve seen it from other people who have also never met each other, who have never spoken to each other,” Dolezal said. “The similarities are astounding.”
Dolezal said he brought his unique perspective back to the states, where he witnessed a startling shift in American culture. After traveling the world and seeing the unity of others across the globe, Dolezal said he was ultimately disappointed in the lack of that same unity present in a country that boasts being the melting pot of the world.
“We have kind of lost our sense of togetherness,” Dolezal said. “This is something that predates the 2016 election. I think we’ve forgotten how to consider that other people have different experiences and that our experience isn’t singular, that it’s the only one that’s out there. I think that’s contributed to a lot of divides, both politically, religiously and on racial lines as well.”
Dolezal said the first step in eliminating racial boundaries starts with language. He said racist comments, even those said in jest, should be struck from conversation. This could be a challenge, he said, especially for young people who might hear their family members using offensive language and are too afraid to speak up. However, he said acknowledging the issue is sometimes the best way to end it.
“If people aren’t telling us about what they say and what they do, then how are things going to improve?” he said.
Dolezal said he and his fellow BSU members strive every day to put black history at the forefront of people’s minds, something he thought the current American education system struggles with. He said that more often than not, a school’s traditional history textbook will omit notable contributions made by black people.
To better educate the Moscow community on black history, Dolezal said BSU planned a myriad of events during Black History Month.
UI invited celebrated author Colson Whitehead to speak on his book, “The Underground Railroad.” A workshop on American beauty will also be offered. Dolezal said the seminar will challenge how society views the style of black women when juxtaposed with more traditional forms of beauty.
“These are, like, for perspective,” Dolezal said. “Maybe people have never thought about these issues or these things before, but for other people it could be a reality. That’s kind of the goal of the Black Student Union, to expand and raise awareness.”
BSU will also offer discounted tickets to those who wish to attend the opening of Marvel’s newest movie: “Black Panther.”
“I really feel like it’s going to be the first black, big movie. You know what I mean? No “Madea” has ever been as big as this. It’s supposed to be bigger than “Civil War,” “Avengers,” all these movies and it’s like, that’s us,” said Khari Amos, a member of BSU.
As of Wednesday, Rotten Tomatoes scored “Black Panther” at a 98 percent, the highest-rated Marvel movie to date.
Dolezal, a self-proclaimed fan of the upcoming film, said the timing could not have been more perfect for a movie featuring a black-dominated cast to hit the big screen.
“I think a lot of this movie is about representation and representation in a way that previously hasn’t really existed in mainstream, major motion pictures,” he said.
Dolezal said he hopes he and fellow BSU members can spread the celebration of black history outside the month of February, the shortest month of the year.
When it comes to the month itself, he said he was ultimately disappointed there needs to be a month dedicated to black history at all.
“There definitely needs to be more inclusion of contributions so that people can grow up learning about the actual contributions. It doesn’t have to be regulated to one month,” Dolezal said. “It should be like a continuous observations and celebration of contributions.”
Aman McLeod, assistant professor of politics and affiliate faculty in the College of Law, shared that same sentiment.
“I think it’s unfortunate there needs to be a Black History Month. It should be part of the narrative all the time rather than just have a special time to remember it,” McLeod said.
Dolezal said the most important aspect of Black History Month is often forgotten. Black History, Dolezal said, is not just for black people — it’s for all people.
“It’s not just for us. It’s for everybody. It’s not just for black people,” he said. “It’s an important part of our history as a country.”
Brandon Hill and Kali Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org