Jan. 31, 2022
Discussion about racial reckoning at Monticello one of the highlights for Black History Month at VCU
Events and programs throughout the month focus on introducing previously unheard voices within the Black community.
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A discussion with author Gayle Jessup White headlines Black History Month events at Virginia Commonwealth University this year.
Jessup White, the public relations and community engagement officer at Monticello, grew up hearing family stories about being a descendant of Thomas Jefferson. She began researching her family’s genealogy and traced her ancestry back to Sally Hemings, an enslaved person at Jefferson’s Monticello estate. Jessup White wrote about confronting America’s racial reckoning and the search for her family’s history in her book, “Reclamation: Sally Hemings, Thomas Jefferson, and a Descendant's Search for Her Family's Lasting Legacy.”
A discussion with Jessup White about her research and book will take place Feb. 23 from 5 to 7 p.m. in James Branch Cabell Library. Shawn Utsey, Ph.D., a professor in the VCU Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences and chair of African American studies, will moderate the discussion. Registration is required.
The event is one of many taking place at VCU throughout the month. Myriam T. Kadeba, Ph.D., director of the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, chaired the committee that is organizing some of the events for Black History Month. She said they focus on four main themes that were developed based on feedback received from the VCU community over the past year. They are:
“Black is Beautiful, Gay is Good”: Kadeba said queer people in the Black community are often underrepresented when talking about the Black experience. “I think oftentimes, their experiences are put on the margins,” she said. “Instead, we wanted to center those experiences.”
“Black HISTORY: Untold Narratives”: The goal is to focus on narratives that are not typically known within the Black community. It is important, Kadeba said, to make space to these other narratives. “We wanted to focus on … the narratives around Black people that we may not necessarily hear often. We got some feedback from the VCU community about wanting to learn more about these narratives.”
“Black Joy as Resistance”: Too often, stories told about the Black community focus on the negative aspects, Kadeba said. Joy is a key component of Black resistance and celebrating who we are. “I think oftentimes, the narrative around Black experiences is told in a way that overemphasizes pathology,” she said. “We wanted to utilize more of a strength-based approach.”
“Blackness across the Diaspora”: The African diaspora is not just present in the United States. The committee wanted to look at other places where Black people are located and explore what that means to the Black experience. “We recognize that anti-Black sentiment is present not just locally but also globally,” Kadeba said. “We want to focus on what connects Black individuals across the Black diaspora.”
In addition to the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, the Division of Students Affairs, the Division of Strategic Enrollment Management and Student Success, VCU Health System, the Office of Academic Affairs and students were involved in the planning for Black History Month.
Brooke Berry, J.D., assistant vice provost for diversity, equity and inclusion in the Division of Student Affairs, and a member of the OMSA planning committee, said she sees Black History Month as an important way to highlight the Black community at VCU and across Richmond. She was especially excited about a talk on Abraham Peyton Skipwith, the first Black homeowner in Richmond’s Jackson Ward neighborhood. The Zoom presentation, in conjunction with the JXN Project, will be Feb. 17 at 5:30 p.m. Registration is required.
“For Black History Month, we wanted to focus on the untold narratives of Black Virginians,” Berry said. “VCU has such a dynamic relationship with the development of the city of Richmond. We thought it apropos to collaborate with a community organization to celebrate the life of an unsung Richmond pioneer.”
Kadeba said the committee has put together a diverse series of events, many of which are virtual and some in person.
“There are events where we are trying to celebrate cosplay and anime,” she said. “There are events where we are trying to focus on the untold narratives of Black Richmonders. We are also hosting a discussion on the experiences of Black masculine lesbians. There are so many exciting programs that are going on all throughout February.”
Among the month’s other events, Annette Gordon-Reed, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, will deliver VCU Libraries’ 21st annual Black History Month Lecture at 7 p.m. on Feb. 10 in the Cabell Lecture Hall of James Branch Cabell Library. Gordon-Reed is the author of six books, including her most recent work, “On Juneteenth,” published in 2021.
Gordon-Reed’s talk will be based on “On Juneteenth,” which weaves together American history, dramatic family chronicle and memoir to reveal the story of Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. Juneteenth was made a federal holiday in 2021. Gordon-Reed’s lecture will be free and open to the public, though registration is required. To register, visit support.vcu.edu/event/BlackHistoryMonth2022. It also will be livestreamed to registered attendees.
To find more events, go to the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs Black History Month page.