Honoring Black History Month at W&L

Office of Diversity and Inclusion hosts ‘Past Meets Present’ event

Sam Bramlett

The first ever Past Meets Present event was held in the University Commons last Friday, fusing spoken word, painting, and song to recognize Black History Month.

Washington and Lee’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion organized the event in an effort to help students learn more about African-American history and culture. African-American Artists R. Kelly and Bob Marley played over the speakers while attendees filed in.

About 50 professors, students and Rockbridge area residents filled the chairs of the Commons living room when the event began.

Before students arrived Friday, master of ceremonies for the event Lauren Mosely ‘15, said, “I hope we have people of a diverse background representing Washington and Lee at the event, not just African-Americans and minority students.”

Anthonia Adams ‘16 started off the event by singing a song from “The Color Purple,” a 1982 novel adapted to a musical by African-American author Alice Walker.

VMI cadet Taylor Monfort-Eaton then performed a spoken word inspired by Langston Hughes.

“Let America be America again. But America was never America to me,” Monfort-Eaton said.

W&L law student Jasmine Brooks ’15 performed a spoken word weighted heavily with the current issues proliferating the African-American community such as black-on-black crime and police brutality.

Commenting on the reactions to Trayvon Martin, Ferguson and Eric Garner, Brooks said, “We chant ‘black lives matter’ but don’t even believe it ourselves.”

Payne hall and other buildings on campus were originally built by slave labor. Past Meets Present encouraged students recognize such works. Mosely said, “A lot of things in America were built by African-Americans who weren’t recognized and were instead looked down upon. We can’t go back in time but it’s important to recognize what’s been and continues to be done by African-Americans.”

The students who ran the event said they hoped that highlighting black history through art would draw more students to pay attention and perhaps affect their opinions regarding recent events such as the Ferguson riots and the Eric Garner case.

Matthew Barton ‘17, who attended the event, said, “I’m an extreme proponent of diversity. I feel like it’s important to have an event like this given an obvious lack of diversity at this school. You need to mix cultures. I think it’s better to do it organically, but if the stage is set like it is right now where you don’t have as much diversity, I think events like this are important.”

Amira Higazy ‘15 closed out Past Meets Present by sketching a portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. as his biography and notable quotes were given.

“When you have a group of people under represented it’s important to hear things from their perspective,” Matt Carl ‘17 said when asked if Past Meets Present affected his views towards recent events. “I think we get caught up with the Washington and Lee dynamic; We need more compassion. White people can’t understand what African-American people go through.”