The importance of Black leadership, overcoming adversity and strong allyship were central themes at the Fort Lewis College Black Student Union’s first ever Black Met Gala on Saturday, which concluded a monthlong celebration of Black history organized by the union and the Black Student Resource Center.
FLC’s Black Student Union, composed of eight students, a faculty adviser and the Black Student Resource Center supervisor, held a series of events for Black History Month, observed through February, to educate new students about available resources and engage with the college community. The union hosted events such as trivia, open houses and seminars featuring the college’s Native American Center and guest speakers.
The events culminated with the Black Met Gala, followed by a Black & Gold Dance, where over 30 people gathered in the Student Union building on campus to recognize Black excellence. (Attendees mingling after the gala said turnout might have been higher had an FLC basketball game not been going on at the same time.)
Students, faculty, staff and Durango activists were acknowledged for their contributions to the Black community at FLC. Tracy Jones, director of the Southwest Movement for Black Lives and a Durango area activist, was awarded for her community advocacy.
Jones said she started in Black advocacy work in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer that garnered national attention and spurred protests across the country, including in Durango.
She said Black advocacy and activism can be difficult, “draining” work, particularly in a predominantly white community like Durango. But Black leadership is pivotal to carrying momentum forward in the constant push for social justice. She said allyship with people who support the Black community is also needed, and effective allyship relies on understanding Black perspectives.
“Not everyone’s an ally, you know? It’s kind of the truth of the thing. You have to really do the education and that’s what I would ask of everyone here,” she said.
She said the Southwest Movement for Black Lives created an educational program called Surge which is for allies who are not Black and who wish to be effective allies.
Destiny Morgan, Black Student Union president at FLC, said Jones’ talk resonated with her. She agreed Black advocacy work can be “exhausting” and “disheartening,” but she said continued collaborations with Black leaders and collected allies can move society closer to something “more equitable and just.”
In an interview with The Durango Herald, Morgan said Black history is as much about the future as it is the past. She said it is an observation of the resiliency of Black people and a reminder that although progress continues there is still a long way to go.
“When I think of Black history, I think of resiliency,” Morgan said. “I think of unimaginable possibilities. I also think of love and I think that Black history is the future. And I also think that Black history should be everyone’s history.”
Morgan, who is from Ganado, Arizona, on the Navajo Nation, said she first found her Black political consciousness when she started talking to Black family members on her dad’s side of the family. She was in high school.
She said it enlightened her to a new side of Black history not taught in schools and opened up a brand-new perspective for her.
Black History Month itself originated from Black History Week. The U.S. government first declared February Black History Month in 1976, a shift from the weeklong observation the second week of February that started in 1926.
“We barely had a week and now we have a month,” she said. “Which is kind of funny, how it’s (the) shortest month in the year.”
She said Black history and other heritage months such as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and Native American Heritage Month should be taught beyond the month itself.
“Those identities and those histories should be taught beyond their designated months because yes, it is special to highlight them for a month,” she said. “But then at the same time, I feel like they made contributions to what it’s like to live in America today. It should really be taught beyond the month and it should be celebrated every year.”
She said there are authors, writers and scholars with different heritages whose contributions to society should be highlighted year-round.
But, the celebration of heritage months might still be inspiring to people to carry and drive them to carry on the stories and lessons of the past, she said.
The unnecessary killings of Black men and women in America is the same story as it has always been, she said. Tyre Nichols, a Black man who died in January several days after being beaten by five Memphis police officers, is just among the latest names on a long list that includes Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin and Breonna Taylor.
She said the murder of George Floyd in the summer of 2020 was a “wake-up call” to many people, and protests in support of Black lives continue to this day, although they aren’t as prevalent in the media as they were several years ago.
“I don't view the police as the bad guys. It’s just really unfortunate how, still, people that look like me, people that have brown skin or people of color, feel like they have to be careful around law enforcement,” she said.
The 2023 Undergraduate Award of Black Excellence, the first of its kind for the FLC Black Student Union, was awarded to Black Student Union members Elijah Smith, vice president; Maia Lehman, BSU secretary; Mackenzie Holmes, BSU social media coordinator; Alx Lee, BSU treasurer; Rich Dowdell, BSRC staff; and Aaliyah Blatchford, BSU member.
FLC faculty, staff and alumni also received awards recognizing their contributions to the Black college community. Alumni awards were awarded to Kaidee Akullo and Danielle Morris.
Staff and faculty honorees were recognized, including Emmanuel Jordan Bible, assistant coach and recruiting coordinator; Sue Kraus, Black Student Union adviser; Chiara Cannella, associate dean of teacher education; Gyana Brandy Gomar, assistant director of BSRC and El Centro; Al Wolfe, assistant director of the gender and sexuality resource center; and Nicolette Manning, associate director of the Student Involvement Center.
Jones, director Southwest Movement for Black Lives and Durango Peace of Justice, was awarded for her community advocacy.