Expanding black history

Friday, Feb. 1, Portland State University kicked off Black History and Heritage Month with an all-day symposium called “Freedom in Black History.”

The day was filled with several speakers discussing a myriad of topics on different aspects of black freedom.

Kimberly Springer, assistant professor in the department of black studies, presented on “Freeing Gender and Resisting Sexism in Black History.” She discussed methods to bring gender to analysis in black studies

Springer is the first tenure-track African American in the black studies department. She said while the position is an honor, it is also a challenge.

“How does one teach gender to black studies students?” Springer said, “Gender is not a synonym for women.”

Springer defines gender as not only referring to women but also includes the social construction of ‘black maleness.’

“One is not born a man, one becomes a man,” Springer said.

Springer wants to implement introductory classes in black studies to help discover some of the effects that gender has on African American history.

President Bernstine was in attendance for Springer’s presentation.

Another speaker at the symposium was Krys Ochia, an adjunct assistant professor in the black studies department. Ochia discussed “Freedom and Empowerment among Women in West Africa.”

Ochia explained that Western concepts of empowerment for women might not be suitable for West African Women.

Ochia said that some of the Western ideas of empowerment for women include equality in the workforce and reproductive rights. Ochia pointed out that there are no jobs for the women to have equality in. In regards to reproductive rights, Ochia said that there are no hospitals for abortions.

The Western idea of what empowers women does not address West African women’s needs. Western beliefs do not take into account West African customs and beliefs.

“You should leave us alone to solve our own problems,” Ochia said, addressing the sentiment of West African women.

Ochia explained that West African women have their own way to raise their status and to get respect.

Ochia’s presentation mainly discussed the empowerment of poor women in West Africa. Ochia said that educated women in Nigeria are as free as any one else.

According to Ochia, women’s empowerment cannot be successful unless men are brought in to the equation.

Black History Month is a time to remember, celebrate and acknowledge black achievements and contributions.

The origin of Black History Month resides in 1925. Carter G. Woodson, an educator and historian, began campaigning among schools, journals and black newspapers for a ‘Negro History Week’.

This ‘Negro History Week’ would celebrate African Americans in the United States.

Woodson was able to establish this ‘Negro History Week’ during the second week of February in 1926.

The second week of February was chosen because Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass’ birthdays occurred during that time.

The NAACP awarded Woodson the Springarn Medal for his accomplishment. In 1976, “Negro History Week’ turned into the Black History Month which is celebrated today.