American society celebrates Black History Month every February for 28 days, but for Shereka Wright, women’s basketball head coach, and many others it’s more than a month. It's an everyday experience.
”I’m not just Black in February, I’m Black every month, everyday,” Wright said.
Launched as “Negro History Week” in 1926, Black History Month has grown in scope and focus. Black History Month was officially recognized as a national observance by President Gerald Ford in 1976.
Wright empowers her student athletes with words and actions to help show them that they can be successful.
“You can be successful, you can continue to work hard and understand that you can have these roles,” Wright said.
Wright referred to Vice President Kamala Harris, the first Black and female vice president. She said you don’t always want those to be the first and last, you want to see it be consistent.
“As a Black female, and you’re talking about these up and coming student athletes,” Wright said. “You can be in these roles of power, and I think that that is the thing for me that I want to make sure that I continue to voice.”
Jordan Durham, women’s track and field associate head coach, is also Black and views her friends and family sharing Black success stories on social media platforms.
“Not only are they telling us how they’re doing it, they’re telling us how we can help them continue their fight on bringing opportunities to other people who grew up in situations like them,” Durham said.
Durham acknowledges that her background, which includes being the vice president of her local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chapter in college and joining a historically Black sorority, helps relate to athletes both Black and not.
“It gets hard to say ‘Hey go out there and catch a ball or go out there and run your all on a rep’ if you're not able to tap in and really get to know who they are at a certain level,” Durham said.
Durham recalls senior runner Cole Klashinsky, who is not Black, wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt during his First-Team All-American award presentation.
“For him just to go the extra mile and say ‘Hey I may not experience everything with you, but I see you and I hear you, and I feel that with you’ it really resonates and it helps have that connection with those athletes,” Durham said.
Relius Johnson, Multicultural Affairs assistant director, organized this year’s Black History Month: The Black Experience: Past, Present, & Future that took place from Feb. 1 to 12.
Events included discussion panels, cook-offs, book clubs and movie screenings. Johnson’s events cover a wide-range of topics that are important to Black students.
“It’s recognizing that, yes as Black people we have had challenges, we’ve had hurdles, we’ve had obstacles, but we’ve also achieved great things,” Johnson said. “Also advocating for change for tomorrow and today.”
Johnson said the events help educate students about other people’s stories, the same way it helped him grow.
“College lets you learn more, because again you're bringing so many different perspectives together and that is the beauty of it,” he said.
As for the sports world, Johnson said athletes have a big platform but are scared to use it because of the way other athletes have been shamed in the past for doing so.
“They're fearful if they’ll get backlash,” Johnson said. “Athletes have so much power, so much voice and a lot of people look up to them. The young, the old and the present.”