Black Heritage Month at USF

Keynote addresses highlight a series of events on campus during February that celebrate Black Heritage Month.


The USF Black History Committee: Ryan Harrison, Lola Paul, Nekesha Nash, Interim Vice President of Student Affairs Denita Siscoe, Rozeena Taylor, Janelle Richardson, Brandon Bryan and Knikaila Thornton.  Not pictured: Jaimeika Small and Rose Eugene


By Barbara Melendez

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (Feb. 11, 2013) – Three keynote addresses promise interesting insights on Black Heritage Month at the University of South Florida. They’re free and open to the USF community and the organizers want everyone to know that people of all backgrounds are welcome. 


Navita James-Cummings, associate professor in the Communication Department will speak at the Inspirational Morning Breakfast, Feb. 13, 8:30 a.m., Marshall Student Center Ballroom. E. Nathan Thomas, III, USF Multicultural Affairs, speaks Feb. 21, 7:30 p.m. at the Marshall Student Center Room 3707 at the Black Leadership Caucus. The Student Leadership Luncheon Feb. 27 at 11:30 a.m. in MSC 2708 features Patrick S. De Walt, an instructor in Social Foundations in USF’s College of Education, with lunch provided by Bahama Breeze Island Grille.


With its theme of “Rejuvenate, Refocus, Rejoice,” the committee that organized the events for Black Heritage Month at USF through the Office of Multicultural Affairs, set out to “educate both the USF and Tampa Bay community on the importance of history and significance of Black culture,” according to committee chair Ryan Harrison. “We hope to provide an educational atmosphere for students, staff, faculty and alumni to celebrate and commemorate the contribution that the black community has made to society.”


James-Cummings’ talk will focus on the month’s theme, she said, adding, “I am pleased that the tradition of honoring the contributions of African Americans in the creation of this nation and its institutions continues at USF.”


Student leaders were selected in November to organize the month-long celebration. The students have reached out to student organizations, university dignitaries, and the Tampa Bay community to organize their events.  She has been a faculty member in the Department of Communication since 1981. For ten of those years she served as the director of USF’s Africana Studies department and has been recognized many times for her outstanding teaching and service. Most recently, her teaching, research and published writing has focused on diversity and communication including social constructions of race and ethnicity, diversity and communication pedagogy and women’s spirituality.


“A Discussion of Black Male Retention and Leadership” is Thomas’ topic in light of the alarming statistics relating to life for Black men in the United States. The Schott 50 State Report put the graduation rates in 2012 for high school at 47 percent and in Florida the rate is 37 percent. Those who make it to college face further challenges.  A University of Pennsylvania study found “the rate of minority male college enrollment versus the rate of minority male graduation is so staggeringly different, researchers are calling for a national intervention.”  


Based on his mentoring and retention research on African American students at Michigan State University, Thomas said, "we have to arouse a stronger identity of 'Purpose and Pride' in our students to be more socially conscious so they can help pipeline more males of color from secondary and higher education to the workforce."


De Walt is going to highlight “the significance that Africana women played during critical periods in Africana and United States history, primarily abolition, the Harlem Renaissance and during the Civil Rights era in Florida,” he said. “Symbolically using ‘voice’ as metaphor for thinking of leadership, I will attempt to challenge who we view as pivotal people during some of these movements.


“I hope that the audience really grapples with notions of patriarchy that still manifest themselves in how we look at leadership as well as who we see as capable leaders.  I want the audience to engage in critical reflection on what the notion of ‘leaders are made and not born’ symbolizes when we fully acknowledge the voices and presence of Africana women in history.”


A great deal of planning and coordination goes into making these events possible.


Harrison explained, “I meet with the students every week for them to provide me with updates about their events, as well as for me to provide them with updates from my end,” and added, “The community is very excited about the celebration and hopes that it continues. It has served as one of the richest and most celebrated traditions at USF since the 1970s.”


As the graduate advisor for Black Heritage Month, Harrison has high hopes for this year’s celebration.


“We would like for students, staff, faculty and alumni to celebrate with us,” he said. “Our major push this year has been to reach out beyond the black and minority communities to reach the diverse populations of USF. In 2011, Black Emphasis Month was changed to Black Heritage Month to be more inclusive and celebratory of all aspects of the African diaspora.”


Harrison, who hails from Wildwood, Florida, is working on his master’s degree in the College Student Affairs Program. He earned his bachelor’s degree at USF in public and cultural communications. 


“Black Heritage Month is something that I am truly passionate about because it gives students great opportunities to learn about history, progression, and accomplishments of every aspect of black heritage from both a historical and current point of view,” Harrison said, praising the work of the Office of Multicultural Affairs. “I would like to encourage the USF community to truly gain an understanding of how USF has benefited from the contributions of African-Americans.” 


De Walt said, “I hope what has been presented not only on these days, but throughout this month and the year, serves as a reminder of all that is possible when we truly operate as a collective in the spirit of social justice and equality.”


For more information and reasonable accommodations, please contact the Office of Multicultural Affairs in the Department of Student Affairs at (813) 974-5111.


Barbara Melendez can be reached at 813-974-4563.