For more than four decades, our nation has taken the month of February to celebrate the many contributions African Americans have made since the very beginnings of our country.
In 1926, when Carter G. Woodson (the second African American to receive a Ph.D. in history from Harvard University) created “Negro History Week,” he was hoping “…to prove to white America that Blacks had played important roles in the creation of America and thereby deserve to be treated equally as citizens,” wrote Lonnie Bunch, founding director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture.
“In essence, Woodson — by celebrating heroic Black figures (inventors, entertainers, or soldiers) — hoped to prove our worth, and by proving our worth—he believed that equality would soon follow,” Woodson added. “His other goal was to increase the visibility of Black life and history, at a time when few newspapers, books, and universities took notice of the Black community, except to dwell upon the negative. Ultimately, Woodson believed (what became Black History Month in 1976) would be a vehicle for racial transformation forever.”
For Cal State Long Beach, February is a time for us to highlight the contributions Black faculty, staff and students make at The Beach and in their communities. The month also gives us the opportunity to celebrate our Black alumni, many of whom play key leadership roles in business, education, engineering, finance, health care, journalism, law, social work and more.
It is important for you to know that while we celebrate the African Americans who have played such important roles in the life of The Beach, we’ve also been coming to terms with the historic and systemic shortcomings of our campus and university system. Like much of our nation this past year, we’ve been painfully reminded that there is still so much to be done if we are to create a truly just society.
To those ends, my colleagues and I have been working closely with members of CSULB’s African American community to better understand their perceptions and experiences — to listen and learn from them. At times, the stories — the truths — are difficult to share and to hear. But that’s how we get on the road to change. I am heartened to know we have so many people who not only want to examine these challenges honestly and sincerely, but who also are working to make The Beach the best it can be — for everyone.
Cal State Long Beach remains committed to creating an equitable and excellent environment for all faculty and students. As one of the most diverse universities in the United States, located in one of its most diverse regions, we have a unique opportunity to remove systemic barriers that have long disproportionately threatened the success of African Americans in higher education. We are dedicated to maintaining pathways for a diverse pool of local students, and we continue fostering local access to higher education. Our Long Beach partnership — the College Promise — offers ways for students from surrounding communities to prepare for, enter, and complete a high-quality college degree at an affordable cost.
Likewise, CSULB is committed to recruiting and retaining diverse faculty members. Our latest wave of faculty hiring (an all-time high when it comes to African Americans) demonstrates our seriousness in this matter. In the months and years to come, we will still be working to build a more diverse and inclusive campus community. This isn’t a topic that’s just brought up whenever February rolls around.
Dr. Jane Close Conoley is president of Cal State Long Beach.