African American Celebration Month in effect until Feb. 16


Katie Reid

African American Celebration Month commenced with an opening reception in the Oakland Center Habitat on Jan. 17.

From Jan. 16 through Feb. 16, Oakland University will be paying tribute to African American heritage and culture through a variety of festivities. Various service events, panel discussions and presentations will be presented to educate attendees and honor the historical contributions of notable African American figures.

On Jan. 17, OU faculty commenced African American Celebration Month with an opening reception held in the Habitat of the Oakland Center. Several OU professors and administrators spoke on topics of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). 

Attendees of the opening ceremony were reminded of the importance of DEI at OU. Representatives of the university explained that this month was a time to reflect upon and celebrate the historical and cultural contributions that African Americans have made in the past, whilst paying tribute to African American heritage and culture.

African American Celebration Month continued on Jan. 18 by celebrating the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. through an all-day volunteer event hosted by the Office for Student Involvement and THE Leadership and Volunteer Center. MLK Day of Service provided students with a variety of drop-in, stationary service activities to complete throughout the day. 

Some service projects at the event included DIY dog toys, literacy bookmarks for children and Valentine’s Day cards for the elderly. These completed projects will be distributed to a variety of charitable organizations throughout the community. Additionally, donations of nonperishable food items and toiletries were collected at the event for the Golden Grizzlies Food Pantry.

On Jan. 19, OU Libraries hosted a virtual panel discussion on Race and Policing to educate students on disparities in the treatment of people of color by law enforcement. The program served as an enlightening discussion on a difficult topic that causes disproportionate harm to the African American community.

Dr. Pernell Witherspoon, a criminal justice professor at Lindenwood University, served as moderator of the event, asking panelists Dr. Chandra Scott, Dr. Caress Dean, Christopher Knight and Destiny Williams to share their perspectives on modern policing and race. One big topic of discussion during the event was the recent policing incident at OU’s Recreation Center involving a black man.

Dr. Witherspoon began the event by playing a short video of the Recreation Center incident, after being reminded that OU is located 30 minutes north of Detroit, a city with a predominately African American population. Once the video was done playing, Dr. Witherspoon told listeners that we cannot be sure the incident qualified as racial profiling, and proceeded to analyze the behavior of the black man that was stopped by OUPD.

Destiny Williams, the director of student advocacy for OU’s Student Congress, provided a student’s viewpoint on this topic. Williams highlighted the importance of accountability in this scenario, which many believe the university lacked in this situation due to their delay in public response to the incident.

“I think it’s unfair to label his [the black man’s] reaction as ‘unreasonable,’” Williams said. “We see racial profiling on television all the time.”

Another panelist, lawyer Christopher Knight, discussed the need for reform measures in the current culture and training for police officers in the United States. Knight shared that terry stops (stop and frisks) must be handled calmly and peacefully by police officers, so the situation does not escalate further.

“You can’t say how we’re supposed to feel and act in these situations. These issues of racialized violence keep happening,” Williams said. “To support Black students, the university must take clear steps to recognize and correct the problem.”

Several educational events will be hosted by a variety of campus organizations and departments throughout the remainder of OU’s African American Celebration Month. On Jan. 25, an Inclusion in the Workplace panel discussion will be held at 12:00 p.m. in the Habitat. Another panel discussion will be held virtually on Jan. 26 to discuss the topic of DEI in Physical Therapy

For a full list of events, refer to the Center for Multicultural Initiatives’ website under the African American Celebration Month section.