Throughout February, several community events, galleries and discussions are planned to celebrate black lives in Fayetteville for Black History Month.
The announcement for the Black History Month was made at a press conference at the Agee Lierly Life Preparation Services Center (ALLPS) west campus of Fayetteville High School, Monday Jan. 25. Fayetteville is the only city in Arkansas to ever offically proclaim February as Black History Month, according to Compassion Fayetteville, the community group who organized the events.
Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan was unable to attend the press conference to make his proclamation due to being snowed in while on a trip to Washington D.C., so Communications Director Susan Norton read his proclamation in his stead.
“Our city recognizes black lives matter in Fayetteville, past, present and future,” Norton said. “We are committed to sustaining and creating African American participation, visibility, and engagement in every aspect of our city’s culture.”
Norton also honored Reginald Brasfield and Tearle Byers for thier urban radio staion, 98.3 KDIV Voice of Diversity. The station seeks to educate, entertain, and promote diversity within all areas of society. KDIV 98.7 is a tool to give African Americans a voice by which cultural growth and unity blossoms. Voice of Diversity as an organization exists to add positive and productive values in community.
Paul Hewitt, Fayetteville Public Schools superintendent, followed the proclamation and spoke about how he’s seen race relations develop in the schools and expressed the school district’s commitment to racial equity and diversity.
“I’ve spent 40 years in public education. It’s the best and worst of times,” Hewitt said. “I see far less racism in the schools today and many students making strong friendships despite the color of their skin. However, schools are more racially segregated today than they were before Plessy v. Ferguson.”
Moreover, modern day racial segregation in schools is strongly connected to segregation by class. Nearly 90 percent of intensely segregated, black and Latino schools are also schools where at least half of the student body is economically disadvantaged, according to a 2003 study by Harvard’s Civil Rights Project.
On May 21, 1964 the Fayetteville School Board voted unanimously to integrate the public schools four days after the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision was made to desegregate schools, and may have been the first district in the South to do so, Hewitt said.
Matayo Pearson, a student at ALLPS, also spoke about what Black History Month means to him.
“I interviewed some people from around here during integration and that really helped me write it,” Pearson said, following the event. “We just need to spread the word and make people aware of what’s going on.”
To close the event, three members from Kappa Kappa Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity at the UofA did a stepping demonstration to “Step into Black History Month.”
Several black history events hosted by Compassion Fayetteville are coming up in the weeks ahead. All are free to the public.
“Overall, it’s going to be packed with experiences and development of awareness of what kinds of issues there are in our culture, in Fayetteville and celebrating what has transpired,” said Pattie Williams, facilitator for Compassion Fayetteville. “The privilege walk will kick it all off and I hope everybody can make it. It’s an experience of what it’s like to grow up and have or not have opportunities that are mostly unearned, and what that means in our culture. If people can come to only one, that’s the one.”
- Privilege Walk – Monday, Feb. 1 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Yvonne Richardson Community Center. 240 E. Rock St. in Fayetteville, there will be an experience dedicated to understanding the intricacies of white privilege in our current cultural landscape. Following the walk will be a group discussion and reflection.
- Essay Contest – Due on Feb. 12, high schoolers are asked to write an essay about how diversity and inclusion looks to them. Winners will be announced Feb. 21. The winner will have their essay published online and will get to have lunch with the mayor.
- “Compassion in our Community” Gallery Conversation – Saturday, Feb. 13 from 1 to 2 p.m. at Crystal Bridges in Bentonville, there will be a discussion about the art on display and how it relates or represents the local community. Musuem staff will facilitate along with Williams and D’Andre Jones.
- A Visual Arts Sankofa – Presented by the NWA Chapter of Jack and Jill America, Inc., the gallery emphasizes the value of art education for children of all ages. On display in the Children’s Reading Room at Fayetteville Public Library all month, the exhibition evokes specific aspects of the African American experience. Members of Jack and Jill will host an art show Feb. 13 at 11:30 a.m.
- “Let There Be Light: 100 Black Men” – Showing all month long in the reading room at the Fayetteville Public Library, 20 portraits of black students from ALLPS by Andrew Kilgore will be on display.
- February Needs Survey – This survey is designed to gain insight on the perceived needs and assets of various demographic communities in Fayetteville at large. The survey is available at http://tiny.cc/gggl8x
Jones organized many of the events alongside Compassion Fayetteville to further improve the community he lives in, he said.
“I want the public and African Americans feeling sustained and celebrated and being able to know that black lives matter in Fayetteville and always will matter,” Jones said. “We will continue on the path on racial progression. Whites, Hispanics are all involved and are sustaining this movement. It’s not just about African Americans doing this, this is a joint effort. We’re working in partnership with a predominately Caucasian group, Compassion Fayetteville.”