Efforts by individuals and organizations in Northwest Arkansas are under way to make sure that Black History month -- a celebration whose roots stretch back to 1926 -- is properly recognized and serves as an educational opportunity to encourage diversity and inclusion in the community.
Four years ago, activist, social worker and Fayetteville Civil Rights Commission chairman D'Andre Jones came to the nonprofit organization Compassion Fayetteville with an idea for expanding the Northwest Arkansas area's celebration of Black History Month.
Northwest Arkansas Black History Month Events
Today, 11:30 a.m.: Lunch and Learn — Black Minds Matter
Mermaids, 2217 N. College Ave., Fayetteville
Friday, 10 a.m.- 2 p.m.: Black History 101: Mobile Museum and Lecture
Janelle Y. Hembree Alumni House, 491 N. Razorback Rd., Fayetteville
Monday, 7 p.m.: NWA NAACP Founder’s Day Celebration
ALLPS School of Innovation, 2350 Old Farmington Road, Fayetteville
Tuesday, 2 p.m.: Contempt of Court: The Turn-of-the-Century Lynching that Launched a Hundred Years of Federalism
UA School of Law, 1045 W. Maple St., Fayetteville
Tuesday, 6 p.m.: Books and Brews — Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow (Sponsored by the Fayetteville Public Library)
Core Brewing Company, 2558 E. Mission Blvd., Fayetteville
Feb. 17, 9 a.m.-1 p.m.: Race in Arkansas: 2018 Benton Co. Black History Month Event
NWACC Shewmaker Center, 1 College Drive, Bentonville
Feb. 18, 2:30 p.m.: Early Black Settlers and Their Progeny in Washington County
St. James United Methodist Church, 7 N. Willow Ave., Fayetteville
Feb. 22, 6:30 p.m.: The Revolutionary Act of Transmitting Our Stories
Giffels Auditorium, University of Arkansas
Feb. 24, 11 a.m.: Black History Month Parade
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 224 N. East Ave., Fayetteville
Feb. 24, 6-8 p.m.: Black History Showcase
Ozark Montessori Academy, 301 Homcomb St., Springdale
Feb. 25, 2 p.m.: African-American Athletes in Arkansas Panel Discussion with Evin Demirel
Fayetteville Public Library, 401 W. Mountain St., Fayetteville
Feb. 25, 2:30 p.m.: Celebration Day
Dwelling Place, 1855 N. Porter Rd., Fayetteville
Feb. 26, 6-8 p.m.: Black Authors’ Book Fair
ALLPS School of Innovation, 2350 Old Farmington Road, Fayetteville
Information: Email D’Andre Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or Patricia Williams at email@example.com
"I moved here in 2006, and one thing I noticed was that African-Americans were engaged with the Northwest Arkansas MLK Jr. Council and their respective churches, but there was not a really significant grassroots opportunity for African-Americans here in Fayetteville," says Jones. "Another thing I thought was missing was community recognition of Black History Month. I thought Black History Month was a great springboard to get the community as a whole to be more inclusive. When I partnered with Compassion Fayetteville in 2014, I was the only African-American on the team, and now I think almost 85 or 90 percent of the planning committee are African-American."
Jones and Compassion Fayetteville have steadily expanded the community offerings during the celebratory month ever since with an eye toward including more of the community.
"Black History Month is a time to acknowledge and celebrate the contributions that African-Americans have made locally, statewide and nationally," says Jones. "One thing that we do in Fayetteville is partner with allies so they can help us in the fight for social justice and also help to create a more equitable and more racially diverse Fayetteville."
Jones says that this year's theme is "Protecting the Progress."
"Throughout history, African-Americans have made tremendous progress," says Jones. "We've also experienced major setbacks throughout, but we continue to make phenomenal progress. I call this resilience. We hope to unite with those that look like us and inspire those that don't, as we recognize that under the current [federal ] administration, our progress is being compromised. It has to be protected, or it will set America back."
Compassion Fayetteville's celebration of Black History Month kicked off on Jan. 29 with a press conference at the ALLPS School of Innovation campus which included a proclamation from Mayor Lioneld Jordan. Other scheduled events during the month include lectures, a celebration day and a black authors' book fair. The group also raised enough money to send more than 100 ALLPS students to a showing of the movie "Black Panther." Based on the super-hero comic book of the same name, "Black Panther" is the first of the modern Marvel Cinematic Universe films to be headlined by a person of color, and it also features a predominantly African-American cast. ALLPS principal Denise Hoy says both students and faculty are excited about the event.
"I have a wonderful group of teachers," says Hoy. "I needed five volunteers for this, and they all volunteered. There's going to be a pre-discussion and a post-discussion about the movie, and those will be tied to other events at school."
This year's celebration will also include Fayetteville's first ever Black History Month parade, coordinated by community activist Lance D. Reed.
"We wanted to do something different this year in showcasing contributions made by African-Americans and any marginalized groups," says Reed. "What better way to do that than to have a parade to celebrate the contributions made to the city of Fayetteville, as well as to the nation, by black Americans?"
Reed says the parade will start in front of St. Paul's Episcopal Church at 224 N. East Ave. in Fayetteville and proceed down Dickson Street, ending in front of the Walton Arts Center.
Reed hopes that Fayetteville's commitment to celebrating Black History Month will eventually bring people from around the state -- and even the country -- to visit the area.
"I think people will want to come to Fayetteville during the month of February because of the attractions and the great conversations we have," he says. "We're working on expanding to have even more culturally relevant events that will showcase the African-American perspective and the influence on the arts. I would like to see Fayetteville become a culturally inclusive haven where it can be the diversity gem of the South. We really want Fayetteville to be the epicenter for inclusion and diversity."
Jones says that Mayor Jordan has been a driving force behind that goal.
"Our city is filled with diversity," says Jordan. "And I tell folks that our diversity is our strength. This city works hard at being inclusive and welcoming to everyone, regardless of their skin color, religion what country they come from or who they love. That's what we're all about -- equality, inclusion and diversity. Equality is a really simple message: Everyone is treated the same as everybody else, and, in the city we live in, that's what we strive to do."
Jordan says when Jones and Compassion Fayetteville's Pattie Williams first came to him with the idea of expanding the city's Black History Month offerings, they told him that Fayetteville would be the first city in Arkansas to officially recognize the event as a community.
"I thought it was a great honor to participate," says Jordan. That participation included a banner that stretches across Dickson Street that reads "Black Lives Matter," a statement that some found controversial. Photos of the banner went viral on social media last year, with largely positive reactions.
"Our citizens were very supportive of that, and I really like what the banner says," says Jordan. "African-Americans in our community have contributed to the city in the past, in our present, and they'll continue to contribute -- not only as part of our heritage, but as part of our future. We hear a lot about building walls here and there, but in this city, we don't build walls -- we build bridges of love, no matter what. That's what we're about here."
Events honoring the month aren't limited to Washington County -- former Benton County Circuit Judge and current District 3 Senate candidate Jon Comstock is sponsoring two events, one to be held on the Northwest Arkansas Community College campus in an effort to spread the celebration northward. Titled "Race in Arkansas: 2018 Benton County Black History Month," the event features seven notable area speakers on the subject of race and history, including author Lisa Corrigan and educator Raven Cook.
"I've been studying Dr. DuBois, James Baldwin and Ralph Ellison, a number of African American thinkers, and I'm going to explore their biographies, but do it in the context of the importance of promoting education -- especially for African-American students," says Cook. "I'll talk about how important it is for African-American students to see them visually and interpret that without conditioning or the sense of inferiority that's generally tied to education."
Cook also serves as an educator at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, where she has been working with the "Soul of the Nation" exhibit, which features the work of 60 prominent black artists. Compassion Fayetteville suggests people incorporate the exhibit into their Black History Month celebrations.
"The exhibition is absolutely beautiful," says Cook. "It highlights how African-American artists are faced with the civil rights movement and black power and their personal approach to it -- and it reiterates the narrative that black identity is not monolithic. People approach conversations about race and civil rights very differently. There have been so many conversations in this exhibit space about race and how people see themselves."
Comstock says, after he attended several of the Washington County events from last year's celebration, he decided to make a concerted effort to spread the message throughout Northwest Arkansas.
"I reached out to the city of Bentonville and the city of Rogers and asked if they would be willing to declare February Black History Month last year, and they were," says Comstock. "This year, I reached out to the Benton County Quorum Court and every town in Benton County. I'm getting lots of positive responses, and the first thing I will do is name all of the cities and towns that have issued proclamations, including Rogers, Pea Ridge, Siloam Springs, Bethel Heights -- it seems to me like most are going to say 'Yes' to that effort."
Comstock is also sponsoring a forum discussing the book Contempt of Court: The Turn-of-the-Century Lynching That Launched a Hundred Years of Federalism, given by co-author Mark Curriden.
"I was so taken by the story," says Comstock. "It changed criminal practice in the United States. I told myself when I read this book, 'Other people need to learn of this story.'" Comstock says there will be time for an audience discussion following Curriden's presentation. He feels that this kind of education and community conversation is vital in moving Northwest Arkansas forward in terms of diversity and, more importantly, inclusion. Or, in Jones' words, to help "protect the progress."
"We need to really understand that we're a diverse community and accept that about ourselves," says Comstock. "But what I've learned over the years is that the more important word is 'inclusion.' Diversity is an objective criteria, but inclusion is the key word. Are we comfortable with this diversity? Are we comfortable with each other? Because until we can really get comfortable with each other, it's hard to understand social justice. There's so much that needs to be improved upon."
NAN Our Town on 02/08/2018
Print Headline: Beyond barriers