For Victor Wan-Tatah, director of Africana studies at Youngstown State University, black history means more than a month of commemorating.
Wan-Tatah grew up in Cameroon, Africa, and he experienced racial discrimination while studying at Harvard University.
“It was a name-calling incident, and I didn’t understand why it happened. A few white young men on campus were writing with chalk and made derogatory comments,” he said.
Wan-Tatah said the young men did not know him at all, and he did not respond.
“There was no opportunity or reason for me to respond to it. I was aware of the placements of discrimination,” he said.
Discrimination that still exists, he added.
The incident had another effect on the YSU professor.
It strengthened his pride and fueled his tenacity.
“We deal with it as an isolated unit. We must deal with people saying what they want. They have the right, but they should be challenged and not just let go,” Wan-Tatah said.
Wan-Tatah added that he values the experience and wants the campus community to value black history.
But black students at YSU hold differing sentiments.
Sophomore Darrius Taylor said he thinks that Black History Month is underappreciated. Taylor said he wishes that black history was taught to students at a younger age.
“The classes we have here at YSU should have been offered in high schools as well,” he said. “We should be learning and appreciating this sooner.”
Freshman Montrel Woods shares this sentiment. He said February is a month to celebrate his culture and heritage.
But sophomore Jensine Nabors and her friends said they don’t feel the need to commemorate black history.
“I stopped celebrating in high school,” she said. “It’s just another month to me.”
Freshman Kenneth Clemons said he celebrates black history all year.
Still, professors and staff recommend that all students appreciate the struggles and accomplishments of African-Americans.
“It requires a self-understanding and a conscious effort … an effort for history that has not always been brought out in schools,” Wan-Tatah said.
Wan-Tatah said major contributions often remain unrecognized, and memories of African culture should be reminders of segregation and judgment.
“These issues continue to exist, but strides made by this university have made a big difference,” he said. “Diversity is now more easily recognizable.”
Yulanda McCarty-Harris, director of the YSU Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity, said Black History Month is a time of reflection, celebration and achievement, yet she, too, believes problems linger.
“The struggle continues with African-Americans and other groups that have suffered inequality,” she said. “Poverty, education and economic empowerment issues still transcend race.”
McCarty-Harris takes pride in Black History Month. She said she loves to take part and assists with campus events during February.
“We assume everything is OK because we have a black president, but we still live it day in and day out,” she said. “It’s a time for awakening for those to realize there is a lot more to be done.”