On Tuesday, the calendar flipped to February…and Black History Month.
Schools and colleges across the High Desert are acknowledging the event in different ways.
“Black history is a part of American history,” said Erika McCalpine, the Executive Director of Strategic Diversity Initiatives at OSU-Cascades.
This year, McCalpine is hosting a virtual “Love Your Neighbor” event on Feb. 24 from 6-8 p.m., which will celebrate Black excellence and success.
The university will also run a social media event throughout the month to highlight Black students and faculty members and allow them to share what the month means to them.
“I think it’s important to not only acknowledge the past and honor it, but to celebrate our present and inspire the future as well,” she said.
McCalpine believes that it’s important to examine both the positive and the negative aspects of Black history in order to fully understand the present.
“Slavery was certainly a failure of people then in the United States,” she said. “However, we are free Black people that have gone on to become very successful. Many of us are what our ancestors fought for, for us to have the right to be where we are today.”
McCalpine said that in places like her home state of Alabama, conversations about things like implicit bias and how to be an anti-racist have been going on for far longer than in Oregon.
But she says many people she has encountered in Central Oregon have been eager to learn, even though they are not exposed to as many people of color.
“When we think about Oregon and it’s makeup, a lot of people have thought ‘well, why are we talking about this? We don’t even have a lot of Black people here,'” she said.
“However, talking about it and acknowledging Oregon’s history around Black people specifically means that we want to prepare our community to be a place so that when people do land here…it can be a welcoming place for them too.”
Central Oregon Community College (COCC) will host events throughout the month, including hearing from West African oral historians and Black author Eddie Cole, and co-sponsoring a series of films with The Father’s Group of Bend.
“When we started looking at the film series, the key piece was we wanted to make sure that we put movies out there that one, raises consciousness, and two, celebrates the human condition, but most of all shows us that we have the innate ability to relate and do various things in this country,” said Marcus LeGrand, a member of The Father’s Group and the Afrocentric Program Coordinator at COCC.
The film series will run weekly throughout Black History Month, and then monthly throughout the rest of the year.
February’s films include I Am Not Your Negro, Hidden Figures, Who’s Streets?, and Red Tails.
“I Am Not Your Negro talks about how even in those times, people had the willingness to want to die to fight for their liberation,” LeGrand said. “When you look at Hidden Figures, it shows the genius of education and what we brought. Think about Ms. Johnson…without her, we don’t get to the moon.”
LeGrand, who also sits on the Bend-La Pine School Board, believes teaching Black history is crucial to changing society.
“American history is not always great in terms of how we’ve treated other people…so that’s a thing we’ve got to look at,” he said. “A lot of people don’t want to look at those facts or pay attention to it, but they have to realize that in order for us to move forward or have a clear understanding of where we want to go, we’re going to have to do that.”
The Crook County School District is looking at Black History Month through a broader lens this year.
“We always get feedback from parents, and any time we do, we try to incorporate those,” said Communications Director Jason Carr.
“One of those that we heard from last year was instead of having a focus primarily on slavery…why not focus on some of the important contributions that the Black community has made in America, whether that be through a historical figure, a sports figure….really trying to teach children and make them aware of the contributions that have been made in society.”
Of the 3,216 students enrolled in the Crook County School District, only 0.004%, or 13, are Black.
Carr said the curriculum for the month will differ between grade levels, but that teachers are working to cover the topic in a holistic manner.
“It could be anything from an art project, to learning about a specific historical figure, to writing a book report or some kind of reflection essay,” he said.
The Redmond School District and the 509J School District did not have anyone available to comment on Tuesday.
Bend-La Pine Schools did not respond to a request for comment.
Black History Month Events in Central Oregon
- The Father’s Group Film Series, weekly event
- Feb. 17, 4 p.m., Eddie Cole, PhD. to give a virtual presentation hosted by Central Oregon Community College to talk about his award-winning book “The Campus Color Line: College Presidents and the Struggle for Black Freedom.”
- Feb. 23, 12-1:30 p.m., “Journey of the Drum-Celebration of the Griot” at Coats Campus Center’s Wille Hall at Central Oregon Community College. The event will feature a presentation on Mande societies and how they preserve history through song, followed by a traditional West African Drumming Demonstration.
- Feb. 24, 6-8 p.m., virtual “Love Your Neighbor” event through OSU-Cascades. Focused on healing and lifting up communities of color. Registration details to come.