Break a Silence With Music: Black History Month 2024 Kickoff

Picture of students in line for food
All Photos by author
Olga Shalaeva
Dr. DeWitt Scott, director of the Angelina Pedroso Center for Diversity and Intercultural Affairs (Olga Shalaeva)

On Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024, the Alumni Hall at the Main Campus was filled with the rhythmic sounds of drums, inspiring poetry, and soulful voices as the Black History Month 2024 Kickoff and Soul Food dinner took place.

The event was organized by Dr. DeWitt Scott, director of the Angelina Pedroso Center for Diversity and Intercultural Affairs and Dr. Obari Cartman, the current president of the Chicago Association of Black Psychologists. The event was a celebration of Black culture, both past and present, while also highlighting the future. It showcased the healing power of music and art through an amazing performance by Alysha Monique, a talented Black singer-songwriter. 

Dr. Cartman is one of the nation’s foremost experts on young Black men’s cultural identity and mental health. He said in his speech, “Music is medicine. It is medicine. Through rhythm, we tell what it means to be a Black person, speaking through the language of drums, music, and voices. Music assists changes, revolutions, and local Chicago culture.”

The performances captivated the audience, from reciting poems accompanied by drums to singing songs throughout the decades that made everyone want to dance. Singer Monique, who shared her experience as a Black woman in the music industry, said music was a way to create social-norms-changing art and empower women. 

“Women can be anyone: developers, creators, behind the scenes. Women can gather a team around them to create social-norms-changing art,” said Monique.

One of the poems recited had a powerful message, “We have a lot of clay on our hands,” meaning that we could shape our future with our hands and create something beautiful.

The event also included a soul food dinner, which was a delicious way to accompany the night’s performance. It featured several Soul Food dishes from traditional recipes and ingredients that nourished the body and the soul: smothered chicken and pork,  cornbread muffins, collard greens, etc.

The kickoff was a success, with over one hundred attendees. It was only the beginning of a series of events planned for NEIU students during Black History Month through the Pedroso Center. There will be movie screenings every Wednesday, as well as upcoming career talks by Black professionals and a poetry performance competition near the end of the month.

The organizer, Dr. Scott, hoped the event would inspire students and audiences who aspire to be musicians, artists, and leaders. “They will attend all the performances today, get a feeling for music, and transmit happiness with it to other people. They will be creative in their own way,” Dr. Scott said.

Dr. Scott also had advice for aspiring Black musicians and artists: “To overcome the shyness of interacting with the public, essential skills should be learned and trained: how to keep calm in front of so many eyes looking at you, how to get the audience’s attention on you and your art, and how to keep open to new opportunities coming your way. It gets easier every time you perform in public; take the first step for just 5 minutes.”

The event was a reminder of the importance of breaking the silence with music and celebrating ourselves and our culture. As Dr. Cartman said, “Celebrate culture, our past, present, and future. Celebrate ourselves and be present in a moment. Art to teach, heal.”

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