'Black history is American history': Project for Change hosts Black History Month celebration
Community members gathered on Saturday, Feb. 18, for a celebration of Black History Month that included soul food, music and a chance to learn.
BEMIDJI — With the sounds of children playing in the background, community members lined up in anticipation at the Headwaters Peace Center, waiting to load up their plates with heaping servings of soul food and jollof rice.
A celebration of Black History Month, Saturday’s event was organized by Peacemaker Resources and local nonprofit Project for Change and drew in attendees from as far away as Little Falls, Minn., for good food, education and a sense of community.
“We just wanted to have an event for the community where we can just gather and celebrate,” said Jacob Wiley, president of Project for Change. “Something where people of color can get together and find out they’re not just the only ones here.”
Open to everyone, the event featured food, music, dancing and a presentation on the history of African Americans in the United States.
“(It’s) an opportunity for educating and learning, and being yourself with other people of color and allies,” Wiley explained. “Just coming together as a community and making changes.”
After the meal had ended and the initial buzz of conversation died down, an audience was gathered for a presentation on Black history from guest speaker Jered Pigeon, the director of diversity and inclusion at Moorhead State University.
Pigeon opened his presentation by giving an overview of Black History Month’s origins, explaining that it started as a week-long celebration in 1926 before it grew and became nationally recognized in 1976.
“Black History Month not only serves as a time for celebration, (but as) a powerful reminder of the influences that Black Americans have contributed to this land,” Pigeon said. “Black history is American history.”
History for future generations
During his presentation, Pigeon emphasized the importance of sharing this history and teaching it to future generations.
“There’s always attempts to rewrite history in a majority narrative,” Pigeon explained. “At times we need to insert our own voices.”
While teaching the past, from slavery to the Civil Rights Movement up to the modern day, Pigeon also stressed ongoing action and looking toward the future.
As a part of his presentation, he prompted attendees to interact and think about their own roles in creating change.
“How can we continue to not only honor our past, the history, the pain, the struggle but then also move forward?” Pigeon asked.
For Alicia Rufus, the answer was educating her kids and making sure they know their history.
“I teach (my kids) so they know where they come from, and so they can know where they’re going,” Rufus shared. “You’ve got to know those roots to grow the tree.”
Rufus, who traveled for the event from Little Falls with her four young children, explained the importance of bringing her kids to spaces that celebrate Black history and accomplishments.
“They don’t get a lot of celebration of themselves and what they look like, so it’s important to see that we celebrate where we come from as a people — and that we keep going,” Rufus said.
This point tied back to what Pigeon hoped was the main takeaway from his presentation.
“History is connected to the future, but it doesn’t define where you will go,” Pigeon explained. “(The future) is a product of your history, but it shouldn’t define it.”
Pigeon closed his presentation with a call to action for everyone in the room to be a part of creating change — whether through teaching Black history or standing up against injustices and discrimination.
“Be a part of the solution. We can all step back and criticize and critique, and there’s room for that too, but also challenge yourself to bring forth solutions,” Pigeon said. “We know where we’re at today, and we still have work.”