Campus celebrations set for Black History Month


Madeline Bruce, Features Editor

“Art is designed to provoke the observer to experience an introspective analysis of the self.”

Parris Baker, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the social work program at Gannon University, said that this quote from Erie artist Antonio Howard is what he hopes happens at one of the Black History Month events set to occur in the coming weeks.

Black History Month at Gannon is something that has only been celebrated in recent years. In fact, staff of The Gannon Knight covered what they called a “lack of Black History Month celebration” in 2016. In the years since, events have been held in February to celebrate and commemorate the history and culture of Black people. This year, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, is no different.

Multiple events that are COVID-19 safe have either been planned or are in the works by students and faculty at Gannon. Throughout the month, there will be a display of art by local Black artist Antonio Howard, a painter and spoken word artist who has written and published three books. He is known for two public art projects – one on the exterior of the Whole Foods Co-Op on West 26th Street and a mural that beautifies the wall next to the 12th Street Sunoco station.

Howard, who was awarded Erie Arts & Culture’s Emerging Artist Fellowship in 2019, will have his art on display in the Waldron Campus Center, including a piece that was a part of the Erie Art Museum’s Spring 2019 Show.

“When Sam Hyman came to me and asked if there was any artwork or anything that could be displayed in the Waldron Campus Center, I immediately thought of Antonio Howard,” Baker said. “It’s amazing stuff.”

In continuation with the theme of celebrating Black History through art, a virtual celebration and performance is set for Saturday.

This event, in conjunction with Penn State Behrend and LifeThruMusic, is something that Baker said started out as a fundraising event for LifeThruMusic, a music mentoring program in Erie that integrates traditional music training and technology.

A Black History Month event that brought together Gannon and Penn State Behrend was in the works, so Baker said that it made sense to integrate the two universities and the fundraiser to create one event. Gannon’s Black Student Union then collaborated with Baker on the event.

The virtual event will include speakers from both Gannon and Penn State Behrend reading poetry and prose, as well as a reading of Amanda Gorman’s inaugural poem “The Hill We Climb.” A representative from Gannon’s International Hispanic Association will read a poem titled “Poema,” and members of LifeThruMusic will put on dance and vocal performances.

“I think people will be impressed with the talent of these young people,” Baker said.

The title of the event, “Cultural Crossroads,” is important to emphasize, Baker said. Celebration of Black history is important, but the polarized political and cultural climate that exists today creates an environment in which it is necessary to help people see that celebration of any one culture involves everyone.

“It’s as much of an invitation to experience cross-culture pollination as anything,” Baker said. “And I would hope people don’t see it as something that they’re not a part of, and that hopefully students and the campus communities will embrace it. I think that’s what’s happening. The feedback so far has been pretty amazing.”

The “Cultural Crossroads” event is not the only thing in the works to celebrate Black history on campus. Gannon’s Black Student Union has several plans in the works, some of which they’re already executing.

Every day this month, members have been posting a “Daily Dose of Black History” on the club’s Instagram Story. This, club President Jade Hammerer said, is a way to educate the students and faculty at Gannon on a deeper side of Black history.

“Black history isn’t something that’s taught in regular history at school,” she said. “Growing up, my mom always emphasized the importance of history and the power in knowing the history of your people. She told me that in order to fix the future and make changes in the future, you have to take what happened in the past and learn from it to create a solution.

“I think it’s important for people to know all aspects of history, good or bad, because it happened. Even if it was the worst thing ever, it happened.”

Hammerer and Marian Collin-Franco, the vice president of the BSU, said they want to expand their social media reach beyond their club’s own following to spread even further the story of Black students on campus.

“Something else we want to do is take over Gannon’s Instagram to do a ‘Life as a Black woman or man on a Predominantly White Institution Campus,’” Collin-Franco said.

Exposing the experience of Black students on campus is something that could help prospective and current Black students and students of color feel more seen.

“When I came up here, my very first time on campus, I was fortunate enough to be paired with someone who was Black,” Hammerer said. “And I grew up where I mostly saw people of color or Black people, so it was a transition to come here and be so blatantly the minority.

“I think it’s good for students who might want to go here or students who currently go here to see the university promoting someone who is Black, because it’s something we don’t see that often.”

Another event the BSU will hold will be exclusively for Black alumni of Gannon and current Black students. This virtual event will be a trivia night held Feb. 26 and will cover the topic of old-school versus new-school culture within Black communities.

“We always do an event around homecoming or Black History Month with Black alumni,” Collin-Franco said. “Since we’re in the pandemic, we can’t meet them face-to-face, so this would be our way of getting in contact with them.”

Hammerer and Collin-Franco said they also have an event in the works that will honor the people influential to younger generations who have died as a result of systemic racism. This event will likely take place in the Waldron Campus Center, like the Day of the Dead celebration the IHA held in the fall semester.

“We want to pay tribute to these people in a way that is common for us in urban areas and in the city,” Hammerer said. “It’s very common to set up a memorial on the street for people we’ve lost, and that’s what we’re going to try to emulate in this event.”

Though no date has been set for the event, Hammerer and Collin-Franco said they expect it will happen sometime at the end of February or beginning of March.

For more on Black History Month, follow Gannon’s Black Student Union on Instagram at @gannonbsu.

To register for the virtual Black History Month Celebration “Cultural Crossroads,”  go to


[email protected]