Student leaders reflect on Black History Month

By Angela Butera

DeKALB – Black History Month is a time when people recognize Black leaders around the world, as well as the NIU student leaders who make the effort to support other students of color.

“As a student leader, I try to keep many tabs on the organizations as much as I can,” said Devlin Collins, president of NIU’s chapter of NAACP.

Collins and other students have been talking to NIU staff faculty to set up a plan to help students of color. They talked about bringing new resources to the cultural centers on campus and also discussed adding some retouches on cultural topics as well. 

“Right now, we are talking about how being able to see that the faculty is here to actually listen and take the students’ feelings into consideration,” Collins said. 

When the Center for Black Studies was vandalized, it brought a lot of attention to issues on campus that Black students face, and has brought courage to many students to speak on racist incidents they’ve experienced on and off-campus. Many students spoke up about the lack of representation of faculty of color on campus, SGA President Antonio Johnson said.

“Also, we are working with the NIU Police Department. I have developed a great relationship with them in the last few months,” Johnson said. “I have had many meetings with the Deputy Chief, Jason John, to talk about how the NIU Police Department can lift the students more and to collaborate with students to get them the knowledge on laws and certain things they can and cannot do.” 

Johnson explained that there is now an NIU police advisory board for students to give feedback and constructive criticism to the Chief of Police at NIU.

Johnson has also been working with the Division of Affairs to discuss how they can best assist and help students of color with resources, especially for organizations that might not have the resources they need. 

Black History Month is a very important month, as it celebrates all of the achievements Black Americans have made all over the world. This month is meaningful for a lot of women, too, since the country just elected Kamala Harris as the nation’s first Black woman and person of Asian descent as vice president. 

“Black History Month, to me, is a chance to explain what the struggle is for African Americans on a larger platform,” Collins said. “Without this month highlighting Black trailblazers all my life in school, I doubt I would be the student leader I am today. Now, I’ll admit, Chicago Public Schools always taught [about] the same people every year, but it got me curious enough to find my own Black role models to look up to.” 

Everyone has a different meaning of Black History Month and how they celebrate it. 

“This month means so much more to me this year because we have elected our first African-American, also Asian-American, female vice president, and it shows that things are finally changing,” Johnson said. “That is how I feel personally. I feel like people of color have the opportunity to accomplish and do anything, especially women.” 

This month is a big one for women because it reflects on all of the women who helped pave a way for our Vice President, Kamala Harris. With the help of all the black women out there, it gave her inspiration to run for Vice President. Moving forward, Johnson feels as though dreams are achievable for people of color, and that February is about reflecting on all the people who have paved the way for people of color to reach their goals and dreams.

College and COVID-19 

This past year was a rough year for many NIU students when COVID-19 appeared, but they did not let that stop them from living their life; they just learned to adjust to it. Johnson and Collins have shared what it has been like the past year and how they kept running their organizations despite the pandemic. 

“2020 was a bit of a rough year when it comes to school, school activities, personal life. I have gotten used to 2021 being a way of life now,” Collins said.

As we continue to go through this pandemic, we have all learned to adapt. 2020 was not great when it came to seeing family members or helping others when they were sick. 

“2020 was a major challenge for me,” Johnson said. “I overcame a lot of obstacles due to multiple family members being sick and not being able to be there with them. That was different for me because anytime a family member was sick, I could go be by their side, but with this virus, I was not able to do that.”

Even though getting through this pandemic is a challenge, there was a positive thing that came from it for Johnson: he and his fiancée welcomed a new baby into this world. 

Learning has been a struggle for some during this time and being able to receive the necessary education has been an obstacle. 

There was a lot of adversity when it came to learning online, and it has prevented Johnson from learning hands-on and being able to interact with his fellow classmates and professors, he said. 

“If I could sum it up with a quote, I would say learning through adversity was a challenge, but we overcame it,” Johnson said.