Frank Herrera, Cal Poly Humboldt Social Justice Equity and Inclusion coordinator points out some of the black panther photos in the Green and Gold room in Founder's Hall on Feb. 18. Looking at the poster remind him of growing up and seeing, "big guys in leather jackets," going around doing community work when the black panther movement was at it's height. Photo credit: Abraham Navarro.

Umoja Center hosts Black History Month Art Exhibit

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by Lex Valtenbergs

Student-made poster boards detailing the lives and legacies of Black artists and activists filled the Gold and Green Room in Founders Hall during the Black History Month Art Exhibit hosted by the Umoja Center on Feb. 17.

The exhibit was an opportunity for Cal Poly Humboldt’s Black students to express themselves and celebrate their African heritage, much as their forebears did before them in a self-determined push to resist the injustices of slavery, segregation and ongoing oppression.

“It is a creative way to show our unity and stand for everyone who identifies as Black,” said Demi Ogunwo, a Masters student at Cal Poly Humboldt and Charter President of the National Society of Black Engineers. “It’s a lot of activists, a lot of people who broke out of the norm of oppression to make a name for themselves.”

Photo by Abraham Navarro | Asia Anderson, a Cal Poly Humboldt chemistry senior stands next to a photo of her great aunt Marion Anderson.

Biochemistry senior Asia Anderson comes from a line of radical Black women who defied the norm during their lifetimes. She made a poster board about her late great aunt Marian Anderson, a renowned Black opera singer. It was a popular exhibit among the attending students.

“I don’t sing worth beans, but I do chemistry,” Anderson said. “I still think about her strength and not letting a ‘no’ close doors. That was passed down through the line of women in my family.”

Jovie Garcia-Diaz, a senior majoring in Environmental Engineering, was a student attendee at the exhibit. Her favorite poster board detailed the appropriation of Black culture in popular social media culture.

“That’s something that I see a lot on social media that stands out to me,” Garcia-Diaz said. “People who aren’t Black get praised and get popular for [appropriated elements from Black culture.]”

Cal Poly Humboldt students and faculty alike visited the exhibit as the evening went on. Frank Herrera happens to be both. He is a student pursuing a Masters degree in Business Administration and the Coordinator of the Social Justice, Equity, and Inclusion Center on campus.

A collage poster board about the life of Fredrick Allen Hampton, former Chairman of the Black Panthers, stood out to Herrera. Herrera was alive in the final years of the Black Panthers’ existence before it dissolved.

“I had met folks who were involved, I just remember the guys in leather jackets and the energy,” Herrera said. ”It’s amazing what they were doing, the bravery and courage they had during the time.”

Photo by Abraham Navarro | Students look at posters of black leaders and events in history during the Black History Expo in the Green and Gold room in Founder’s Hall on Feb. 17.

According to Ogunwo, the art exhibit in general characterized three of the seven guiding principles of the Nguzu Saba, or African heritage, that the Umoja Center stands They are Kuumba (creativity), Umoja (unity) and Kujichagulia (self-determination).

“The pillars reinforce what we stand for and how we want people to see us,” Ogunwo said.

Anderson feels a deep connection to her great aunt and to her heritage that empowers her. To her, the exhibit was a chance for Black students to see themselves in the trailblazers before them.

“They weren’t the first,” Anderson said. “You’re not going to be the last. It feels good because one day, those boards are going to be about you.”

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