ABC hosts Black History Month with ‘Avant Black’ celebrations


Jevon Cooper

Association for the Advancement of Black Culture members serve food at the Soul Food Dinner, an event part of ABC’s celebration of Black History Month at Schultz Banquet Hall on Sunday, Feb. 11.

Since 1976, the United States has identified February as the historical Black History Month. This month of recognition for African-Americans evolved from “Negro History Week” started by historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African-Americans in 1926. This commemoration of African-Americans throughout history is one of the key celebrations for the Association for the Advancement of Black Culture.

In honor of Black History Month, ABC will be holding multiple events, some in collaboration with the Association for Caribbean Students and Black Girl Magic. Each year, Black History Month has a specific theme for the events and celebrations. This year’s theme is ‘Avant Black.’

The theme was coined by the Black History Month Chair of ABC, Jaimena Wheel, ’20. Wheel is in charge of ABC’s Black History Month event planning and the creation of the theme. ‘Avant Black’ is a spin-off of ‘Avant Garde’ and where Wheel got most of her inspiration for the month’s theme.

“[Avant Garde] which is kind of like the experimental, radical and orthodox works of people in culture and society. When I thought about black culture, I just thought like, any type of black movement is seen as radical and unorthodox in society,” Wheel said. “In my head, I wanted to celebrate the arts of black culture, and that’s where I got the term ‘Avant Black.’”

The theme is focused on the arts of black culture and society. Each week will contain events that focus on a specific form of art. The first week was film and media, including movies and television shows. The second week is centered around art, such as sculptures and painting. The third week is focused on music and dance and the fourth week is concentrated on literature.

The first week kicked off with ABC’s Highlighter Party and a Super Bowl watch party. The second week had the Soul Food Dinner.

“ABC does a phenomenal job with the Soul Food Dinner. They did all the work, the planning, shopping, and cooking.” Darnell Epps, associate director of the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access and Social Justice Center, said.

The Soul Food Dinner is a student-run event. Students, using their own recipes, cook and serve the food at the dinner. They prepare for about 150 attendees or more, according to Isis Offutt, ’20, the president of ABC.

Following the Soul Food Dinner, the art focused week will be a Graffiti Mural event. The Graffiti Mural event will be held on Feb. 17 at 2 p.m. in the ABC House and later will be posted in the Henderson Campus Center lobby. The mural will be dedicated to black culture and important black figures in society.

“It’s kind of like whatever you think about black culture and art in society and just maybe prominent figures in black culture. It’s basically going to represent all that, and we’re going to ask students to openly draw and create whatever they want.” Wheel said.

The music and dance week follows the art week. Partnering with ACS, the week’s event is the Afro-Caribbean Zumba event on Feb. 18 at 1 p.m. in the David V. Wise Center. The next event, also on Feb. 18, is Sister Sunday. Sister Sunday is partnered with ACS and BGM, and will be held in the Pelletier Library Collaboratory at 6:30 p.m. The event is focused on self-care.

“[It’s] a time of self-care, like people getting to know each other.” Offutt said. “We’ll do self-care stuff, facials, show you how to take care of your skin, and take care of your hair.”

The last week of February is dedicated to literature. An event will be held with Alex the Poet, who is coming to perform and talk on her works to students in the Patricia Bush Tippie Alumni Center on Feb. 19 at 6:30 p.m.

The last event to finish off Black History Month is the Ebony Ball. The Ebony Ball is on Feb. 23 at 7: 30 p.m. in Schultz Banquet Hall. The theme for this year’s ball is “Coming to America,” inspired by the film starring Eddie Murphy. The Ebony Ball is one of ABC’s formal events and has everyone gather for one final celebration.

“The Ebony Ball is just a time to get bad and boujee, to look nice since we don’t have a lot of opportunities to [dress] in formal attire. That’s something I miss from high school,” Offutt said.

With these events, ABC is also hoping to get the Meadville community involved.  One event Offutt and Wheel are hoping to have Allegheny students and the Meadville community involved in together is a showing of “Black Panther.”

“A lot of people in the community can’t afford to go see ‘Black Panther,’ but they want to,” Offutt said. “We’re trying to raise money. We can pay for them to go and pay for some students to go see the movie together. It would create a bond between the community and the students.”

The upcoming Marvel movie is heavily focused on black culture and community. “Black Panther” features a prominent African-American cast, including Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan and Lupita Nyong’o, and an African influenced soundtrack with Kendrick Lamar, SZA and other African-American artists.   

“That was one of the things I said in the beginning like when I started coming up for the idea [for Black History Month]. Honestly, I would say ‘Black Panther’ inspired me to make this theme for the month.” Wheel said.

The trailer for “Black Panther” was released last summer and inspired Wheel to think about black superheroes, black comic book writers and other forms of art in black communities.

“It’s crazy that we don’t know a lot about black literature, and it just got me thinking. It feels like I don’t know forms of art in black culture other than maybe rap, some type of dance and R&B. That’s all well and cool, but I want to celebrate all of black culture and art.” Wheel said.

Through Black History Month, Offutt and Wheel can connect their passions for black history and culture with organizing events for the month.

For Wheel, the month is a great way to learn and explore black history and the achievements of prominent black figures which students would not usually be taught.

“It’s a great time to reflect on history that we don’t always get to learn about everyday in school.” Wheel said.

For Offutt, Black History Month is a great way to not only learn about a history that usually is not taught in courses but also in bringing communities together.

“I love that it continues to bring people together, like people who may not always have come to meetings but come to these events to learn more. Everyone learns something through these events. I’m still learning things too.” Offutt said.

Offutt and Wheel agree there should be more than one month for the celebration of black history and culture, ABC’s “Avant Black” is a celebration which involves both the Allegheny and Meadville communities in exploring a history and culture often swept aside.