Black History Month: GVSU community members reflect on what it means for them and for all

Lakers share their thoughts on Black History Month.

Reginald Blockett, assistant professor of educational leadership and counseling

Reginald Blockett poses, smiling, while wearing a shirt that says "Black & Proud."
Image Credit: Kendra Stanley-Mills

Pausing to celebrate the commitments and accomplishments of Black Americans builds community by allowing us to be seen as contributors to our society and our country. Just recently, the Minority Leader of the United States Senate made a comment where he distinguished African Americans from "Americans." These ways of thinking perpetually marginalize Blackness as the "other." Celebrations of Black history remind all Americans that Black folks and communities have always been integral to the advancement of our country and our world.


Black history at GVSU is about bringing more folks into the conversations and celebrations of Black culture at the university. As I recently shared with my students, Black folks and communities have made history at GVSU since the onset of the institution. Three Black students — Joan Burch, Annie Jacobs, and James Moore — were in the first graduation at the university. Since then and currently, GVSU has prioritized the unique needs of Black and other minoritized students, especially in terms of degree completion and student engagement. GVSU faculty and staff participate in ample learning and professional development opportunities with aims of creating more inclusive environments for all students. I was honored to be named the Burch, Jacobs, & Moore Diversity Teaching Award in 2021, for my contributions to diversity, equity and inclusion.

Judith Essemiah, student athlete

Judith Essemiah poses while smiling, arms folded.
Image Credit: Amanda Pitts

I think the month shows that we still have an impact on Grand Valley, even though our numbers are not as high as maybe the school wants them to be. Also, we are able to show that we do have impact as a group of people, that we bring value to GVSU and we are appreciated.

I feel like during Black History Month we are able to show others what our unity looks like. It's great to be included in such a special month for African Americans. Yes, I’m Black, but I’m not African American. Having a Black History Month for all Black people is great because back home we do it as well. The month shows Black unity, not just African American unity. Yes, it’s about Black unity around the world, but you do recognize the special situation African Americans are in. I love that.

Takeelia Garrett, student ombuds

Takeelia Garrett poses while smiling and looking off to the side.
Image Credit: Kendra Stanley-Mills

I don’t know that I really view Black History Month as building community between Blacks and African Americans. I feel that we are one in the same. I know that it varies depending on who you are talking to but being a Black person in America, some would say that I am African American although I prefer to be referred to as a Black person. I am not exactly sure where my roots are from and the one thing that I know that connects me with others who look like me, is the term 'Black.' To me, 'Black' encompasses anyone who may look like me even if they are from another country. It is more welcoming than African American, which tends to be used for Black people from the Americas. It is not inclusive to me. The building of community is something that is continuously happening. Our building of community happens through our civic engagement throughout the year, not just in the one month.

As a member of the GVSU community, Black History month is a time for us to highlight the word, Black Excellence. Although we celebrate our culture on a regular basis, this is a time for the world to see, recognize, and focus on what Black people have accomplished throughout the years. This is a time for our stories to be shared along with our significant contributions to this world that have gone overlooked. Being a member of Positive Black Women, I also enjoy when we have our Valentine's Day event, whether it is a luncheon or a program. We are always excited to invite the GVSU community to celebrate Black Excellence with us. 

Jack Mangala, professor of area and global studies, and political science

Jack Mangala poses while smiling, with head turned toward the camera
Image Credit: Kendra Stanley-Mills

Black people who immigrate to America settle in a country where their social positioning is defined through the lenses and experiences of African Americans. By providing an opportunity to be educated about African American history and celebrate the resiliency and resourcefulness of African Americans as a people, Black History Month helps to build community and understanding among Blacks of all stripes in the USA.


As a Black person born and raised in Africa, Black History Month has been an educational opportunity for me since moving to the United States. The enslavement of African people and its collective trauma, the struggles for freedom and tremendous accomplishments of African Americans, and the continuing challenges and barriers to full equality – all these questions – are often not talked about in Africa. So, as an African-born, Black History Month represents a time to reflect on and reconnect with a tragic history that started on the Atlantic shores of Africa and continues to reverberate throughout all aspects of American life today.

Astin Martin, interim co-director for Admissions

Astin Martin poses while smiling and looking off to the side.

For the African American community, Black History Month gives us the opportunity to honor those who paved the way. African Americans have been trailblazers that have not only led the United States into the future, but in world views as well.


As a member of the GVSU community, I am honored to be part of a university that understands the importance of my culture. I am a husband and father of two, and I am both proud and excited to share stories from our campus and around the country with them.

Tumaini Sango, music performance - piano major

Tumaini Sango poses while smiling
Image Credit: Amanda Pitts

Black History Month is a special time to remember and celebrate the achievements and contributions African Americans have made to our nation’s history. As the old quote says, we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. We intentionally take time to reflect on the sacrifices and successes of our predecessors, through the sharing of stories, songs, and traditions. Collectively, we are inspired, united, and spurred on to continue the legacy of our ancestors.


For me, Black History Month is not only about remembering those who fought for freedom and equality in our nation, but my roots. I am grateful and proud of my Kenyan heritage, and those who have paved the way before me (my parents and my grandparents). Their stories of how they came to the United States continue to inspire me. As I pursue my education at GVSU, I wish to live into their examples of perseverance, dedication, and love. I am grateful that GVSU makes the effort to celebrate this month through various activities held on campus.