Boston College’s celebration of Black History Month concluded Saturday night in the Walsh Function Room with music, dance, and motivational speaking.
The evening, organized by the Thea Bowman AHANA and Intercultural Center, which also put together the month’s other events, opened with a dinner and performances by music groups Voices of Imani and B.E.A.T.S. and dance group Sexual Chocolate. Voices of Imani is a gospel choir, and B.E.A.T.S. stands for Black Experience in America through Song.
The main event was a keynote address by Thaly Germain, executive director of the Lynch Leadership Academy, a BC program established by a grant from the Peter S. Lynch Foundation that trains urban leaders to handle and lead major educational shifts.
Germain talked about authenticity and knowing oneself, particularly right now, in a time she said is a landmark moment for questions of race and equity.
“Every day when I’m on this campus, I see me in you, and I see you in me, and I’m going to tell you why that’s true,” Germain said. “Being true to who you are will move you forward in ways you can’t possibly imagine.”
“Think about Baltimore, think about Ferguson. I know it feels far, until it happens to you. […] Education is a Civil Rights Movement of our time.”
—Thaly Germain, executive director of the Lynch Leadership Academy
Germain came to the United States from Haiti, where she, her mother, and her younger sister lived through a violent coup. Eventually, the situation became so dangerous that one day, when she was 10 years old, Germain’s school bus was involved in a military assault, with bullets flying into the bus through the windows. Before she knew it, her mother had uprooted their lives for Brooklyn. Germain didn’t speak a word of English when she arrived in the U.S.
In New York, Germain grew up in a one-bedroom apartment, sharing a bed with her mother and sister. Her mother made $600 a month.
“My mother was a single mother, and she worked really hard to make sure we never knew we were poor,” Germain said. “Break [$600] down in Brooklyn talk, that’s like four Jordans.”
But Germain said that even though her mother didn’t make much money, she felt rich. She said that she only realized she was poor on the first day of college at Bryn Mawr, which is located in a wealthy area just outside Philadelphia.
“Just to show you how wealthy they were, there were no sidewalks,” she said. “So if there are no sidewalks, what’s the implication? Everybody drives.”
Germain found that she was unprepared both for the academic rigor of her new surroundings and the social capital that everybody else seemed to acquire with such ease. Germain said that the point was that her story doesn’t really make sense.
“I’m telling you this because I want you to understand that while we’re celebrating Black History Month, anything is possible,” she said, explaining how her story is atypical of the immigrant experience. She talked about how the prevailing social pressure is to be somebody else, and that she uses some slang in meetings because it reminds people to be authentic.
In her role with the Lynch Leadership Academy, Germain had the opportunity to eat lunch with President George W. Bush and investor Peter Lynch, which she said is a reminder that bringing a different perspective is not only a right, but a duty for anybody interested in having an influential voice.
“I want you to recognize that your voice is critical because you get to reach another demographic, and that matters,” she said. She argued that Drake and Beyonce received such attention at the Super Bowl, appearing in a T-Mobile ad and the halftime show, respectively, because the event’s organizers were trying to reach a black audience.
She read a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” that says, “Whatever affects one directly affects everyone indirectly.”
“Think about Baltimore, think about Ferguson,” she said. “I know it feels far, until it happens to you. […] Education is a Civil Rights Movement of our time.”
Citing statistics on lifetime earnings by educational attainment, Germain explained why she thinks access to education is so critical: people with college degrees stand to make over $1 million, and people who don’t graduate high school stand to make less than $50,000. Germain thinks education is a key to fixing racial inequality.
Other events held during Black History Month included a discussion about African tradition on Feb. 4 and the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship Breakfast, during which Chiamaka Okorie, CSON ’17, was given the award.
Cai Thomas, last year’s MLK Scholarship recipient and MCAS ’16, helped organize the events this month and said that she was excited by the speakers who visited campus, including New York Magazine writer Rembert Browne, and the collaboration between BC and people at schools like Boston University and Harvard University.
“They’re such important figures in black thought, especially in this digital age,” she said. “I know [Germain] wants to be a resource for students and I’m just happy with how the month turned out.”
Featured Image by Amelie Trieu / Heights Editor