A group of students dances at Grand Valley's "The Blackout: Black Student Organization Showcase".

'We're creating Black history': GVSU students reflect, celebrate at kickoff Black History Month event

With tables lining the lobby of the Kirkhof Center, 16 different Black and Afro-led student organizations took part in GVSU’s “Blackout: Black Student Organization Showcase." The event is just one of several events being put on by Grand Valley’s Office of Multicultural Affairs to celebrate Black History Month

Phillip Todd, assistant director of the Office for Multicultural Affairs, said that Black History Month is not just to honor the legacy of leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but also to honor the legacy being created by students. “The Blackout is important because it’s student-focused,” Todd said. “It's important to showcase the work that they're doing because they're actively creating Black history.” 

Several students shared how they find community through student organizations and celebrate Black History Month.

Maya Woodson stands outside on Grand Valley's campus in a "Black Student Union" Shirt.
Image credit - Amanda Pitts

Maya Woodson

When asked about her favorite event with the Black Student Union, Maya Woodson names one that happened just 24 hours beforehand: Karaoke night with BSU. 

Woodson has been involved with BSU since 2021 and is currently the president. “It was nice to just see us all interacting,” she said. “It’s like, I wasn’t the president that night. I was just with everybody else, singing our songs and jamming.” 

The community and relationships forged during events like that have been pivotal for Woodson in her time as a student. “I know it can be overwhelming when you go to class and there might be one or two of you. But then you get to come out here and we're all here," she said. "Having a sense of community is very important for a student’s success throughout their college career.”

Underneath the fun events and celebrations, Black History Month holds special meaning for Woodson, whose father participated in sit-ins during the Civil Rights Movement. 

“We're not too far removed from our own history,” Woodson reflected. “My father was in these sit-ins, and here I am in 2024 still doing the same work. We're creating a legacy and leaving a lasting impression on this campus. With people like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, it’s important to recognize that their work was not in vain. Us being here is a true example that their work paid off.”

KeJuan Farrell-Bey smiles and looks off to the right, with lit-up trees in the background.
Image credit - Amanda Pitts

KeJuan Farrell-Bey

KeJuan Farrell-Bey, a sixth-year student studying computer engineering, has been involved with the National Society of Black Engineers for his entire GVSU career. “It’s always had a big influence on me,” he said. “It’s influenced the way that I learn, my work ethic. It teaches you how to prepare yourself for the transition from college to career.”

Farrell-Bey said his involvement with groups like the National Society of Black Engineers has been just as important professionally as it has been personally. “If you don't have a community in college, you're not going to feel like you have a place, right? Events like the Blackout might help you find your place on campus or your group of friends. It also might help you find people who might be beneficial to know once you graduate. You know, ‘We were in a club together, now you might help me get this job.' That networking is so important.” 

For Farrell-Bey, Black History Month celebrations are also chance to introduce others to the accomplishments and legacy of the Black community. “If you don't showcase who you are and what you’re doing as a community, how do people know how to respect this community? It's good to have these events during Black History Month to show who we are, so that people can know what our community is actually about. We’re showing how far we’ve come, and that we’re still developing our history as we speak.”

Kaiya Smith smiles during sunset on Grand Valley's campus.
Image credit - Amanda Pitts

Kaiya Smith

Kaiya Smith, a junior studying psychology with a minor in juvenile justice, is currently the president of two clubs: Ignite Dance Co., which recently performed at Grand Valley’s Presidents’ Ball, and Lambda Pi Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., which was the first black student organization chartered on Grand Valley’s campus in 1974. 

“Events like this give students a chance to see what different organizations we have to cater to our community,” she said. “Being a part of these organizations helped me get involved in my community. It's fun.”

For Smith, it’s also a chance to recognize those before her who paved the way, whether that be prominent activists, or other student leaders like her. “It gives us a chance to celebrate people who have impacted our lives,” she said. 

Smith said it’s not just about historical leaders, but leaders like her who are working to leave a lasting legacy on Grand Valley’s campus. “It gives us a chance to highlight these student leaders, their organizations and their impact on campus,” she said. 

Grand Valley’s Office of Multicultural Affairs will continue to celebrate Black History Month with a variety of events happening throughout February. Visit the Black History Month webpage for more event information.


Sign up and receive the latest Grand Valley headlines delivered to your email inbox each morning.