Black History Month remains necessary, significant today

February 2, 2022

By Mallory Gatson, Staff Writer

February 2, 2022

Cover photo: Adjunct professor and resident director Quantel Williams speaks at the MLK Living the Legacy Today discussion panel alongside Dr. Hal Bass and Dr. Kenneth Taylor. Ouachita hosted the panel in Young Auditorium on Jan. 17. (photo by Hannah Adamson)

My experience at Ouachita has been turbulent but rewarding. When I visited campus for the first time in 2017, there was a welcoming spirit about the school. It felt homey, lively and secure. It felt right even though I didn’t see many students who looked like me. 

While this wasn’t a problem for me, it did raise a concern. I graduated from J.A. Fair High School in Little Rock where there were more Black students than white students. Consequently, coming to a university that lacked diversity was alarming. Ouachita is a predominantly white institution, but I figured I’d see more diversity. 

Over the course of my 4 1/2 years here there has been progress made, but more can be done. There are now more minorities on campus that are not just athletes. We are aspiring doctors, nurses, teachers, vocalists, film makers, ministers and difference makers. I’ve never encountered any racial comments or hateful behavior directed toward me, but there have been plenty of moments where I felt overlooked or inferior to several white classmates of mine. I didn’t let the negativity affect me for too long though. I was brought to Ouachita for a reason and I had to remind myself that I’m just as smart as the next person.

Since being here I have been surrounded by some of the most loving and supportive friends, staff members, advisors, mentors and professors. The community here is everything I didn’t expect but have grown to love and appreciate. Many minorities don’t have the best experiences at Predominantly White Institutions. Some deal with much more than I have had to but I truly do love my PWI.

Coming here and adapting to the environment was not a problem for me. I hope that future minority students adapt as well as I did. I hope they give it a try even if the first impression is overwhelming. I hope they enjoy Ouachita just as much as I have. 

Students from Henderson State University display an “I Have a Dream” banner in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day march and parade. Ouachita and Henderson communities came together to remember and promote Dr. King’s legacy. (photo by Hannah Adamson)

As I write this, I can’t help but reflect on Black History Month with gratitude. Black History Month was founded in 1915 and is celebrated in February to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, two men who played prominent roles in eliminating slavery. The month is set aside to recognize the achievements of various Black individuals and their important roles in United States history.

This month is special to me because if it wasn’t for those who paved the way before me, I wouldn’t have any of the opportunities I have today. If it wasn’t for Harriet Tubman escaping and freeing others that were enslaved, where would we be? If Martin Luther King Jr didn’t have a dream, would people feel empowered today? If my cousin Daisy L. Gatson Bates did not have the courage to challenge change, would the Little Rock Nine still have felt supported? The efforts of one person encouraged the victories of the next.

Along with Black civil activists, but there were also many impactful Black inventors throughout history. Garrett Morgan invented the traffic light, something that we use daily. Could you imagine traffic with no signals? Chaos. Alexander Miles invented automatic elevator doors. Prior to this invention, the elevator doors and shaft were manually pushed open and closed. Doable, but tedious. Then there was George Washington Carver; many know that he is the creator of peanut butter, but he was an intelligent agricultural chemist. From crops alone, he created ink, dye, soap and flour.

Black history is my history, and I will forever be proud of it. There are many more Black creators and contributors that go unmentioned but are necessary and valued nonetheless. Together, we are Black history.

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