Black History Celebration to feature actress Taraji P. Henson, playwright Sonia Sanchez, FOX-TV anchor Kori Chambers

By Shardae Smith

In its 85 years, Black History Month has evolved from Negro Appreciation Week into a month-long celebration helping remember icons such as Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass. During the years, more recent important figures in the black community have been incorporated into the annual remembrance.

Columbia’s 2011 African Heritage Celebration, sponsored by the Multicultural Affairs Department, will be held throughout February. This year’s theme, “Exploring Black Images from Hip-Hop to High Society,” will feature guests who have made an impact on the culture, such as poet and playwright Sonia Sanchez, FOX-TV anchor Kori Chambers and Oscar-nominated actress Taraji P. Henson.

Kimberly Weatherly, director of African-American Cultural Affairs, said she wanted to focus this year’s African Heritage Month on a well-rounded celebration of past, present and future.

“We bring in people [to the college] who students can relate to but can also question [them] about their craft,” Weatherly said. “[This] will hopefully enable our students to have a better grasp on what they want to do in the future.”

Weatherly said the featured guests will suit students in a range of college departments, focusing on visual, media and performing arts.

“Sonia Sanchez speaks to the civil rights area,” Weatherly said. “She’s a poet, a writer and she’s been innovative in the fine and performing arts. When you talk about hip-hop, you’re talking about Taraji P. Henson, an actress who started out in ‘Baby Boy’ and ‘Hustle and Flow’ and worked her way up to ‘[The Curious Case of] Benjamin Button,’ in which she was nominated for an Oscar.”

Weatherly said one of her main goals for Black History Month is to revisit the past and engage students at the same time. She believes the guest speakers who are invited to the college can do just that.

“An Afternoon with Sonia Sanchez” will begin at 1 p.m. at Stage Two, 618 S. Michigan Ave. Building, on Feb. 9. “Behind the Scenes with Kori Chambers” will be on Feb. 10 at 1 p.m. in the Multipurpose Studio, 618 S. Michigan Ave. Building.

Taraji P. Henson will host a limited seating Valentine’s Day event, “Be My Valentine,” from 6:45 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. at Stage Two, 618 S. Michigan Ave., on Feb. 14. Tickets can be picked up starting Feb. 4 from the Multicultural Affairs Office, 618 S. Michigan Ave. Building, 4th floor.

The month will also feature flash sessions, which will consist of 90-minute condensed classes in subjects of student interest. The class topics include “Why Did I Get Married? How to Have a Healthy Black Relationship!” and “Bootylicious & Rock Hard Abs: Buns Of Steel Boot Camp for Summer 2011.” The sessions will be held Feb. 28 through March 4.

Fiction writing graduate student and student worker in African-American Cultural Affairs Chris Terry said he hopes this year’s heritage month will offer something to everyone at Columbia.

Terry will also participate in the alumni-created exhibit currently being featured at the college, “Fear into Fire: Reclaiming Black Male Identity through the Art of Tattooing.”

The exhibit was created by Columbia graduate Nicole Harrison as an investigation into the role tattoos play in the black man’s culture.

“I hadn’t thought of [tattooing] as a racial perspective,” Terry said. “But it makes me consider things about the way I present things to other people.”

The tattoo exhibit will run until March 2 at the Arcade Gallery, 618 S. Michigan Ave.

Weatherly said past African Heritage Celebration Months have focused primarily on music. She said creating a wide range of programs can potentially lead to other academic departments bringing their classes to the events.

The college’s Black Student Union is also planning events for the month and will host its second annual Black Love Week, Feb. 21 through 27.

Black Student Union’s president and junior arts, entertainment and media management major Shunda Watts said the week’s purpose is to raise awareness and show diversity of the African-American culture.

“We want to collaborate with students and other organizations to show our culture is really rooted in family and togetherness,” Watts said. “We want to display that over an entire week in the best way we can [by] honoring our mission and the mission of the [college].”

Watts said Black Love Week will feature a speed dating event and an open discussion, “Brother/Sister Chat,” in which the women and men will be separated to discuss key topics relating to the black community.

Weatherly said she’s really proud of this year’s Black History Month celebration and each year gets better than the last. She hopes people will begin to take advantage of other programs her department offers.

“I always tell people, we are black 12 months a year and our program is year-round for fall and spring,” Weatherly said. “We have plenty of programs, but unfortunately a lot of people don’t know we exist until Black History Month comes around. Heritage Month is an opportunity to come out and meet people who are in the industry, for free.”