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Luther celebrates Black History Month

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Jennaya Robison (‘96) conducts Cathedral Choir at Gospel Sunday Worship Service.

Jennaya Robison (‘96) conducts Cathedral Choir at Gospel Sunday Worship Service.

Photo courtesy of Photo Bureau

Photo courtesy of Photo Bureau

Jennaya Robison (‘96) conducts Cathedral Choir at Gospel Sunday Worship Service.

Shasa Sartin, Staff Writer

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Luther College is celebrating Black History Month this Febuary with  a multitude of events. The month-long program is co-sponsored by the Africana Studies Department, the Diversity Council, the Center for Ethics and Public Engagement, the Paideia Endowment, Student Activities Counsil (SAC) Cinema, and the Center for Sustainable Communities.

The program features multiple film screenings, a lecture, a special Gospel Sunday Service, and a panel discussion on the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality. Additionally, there will be an onstage discussion between Charles Burnett, one of the showcased film makers, and Professor of Africana Studies and English Novian Whitsitt. This year, Black History Month has a thematic component that focuses on Nat Turner, spurred by the release of the historical figure Nate Parker’s 2016 film “Birth of a Nation.”

“This is a very difficult conversation to have across races,” Professor of History and Africana studies Lauren Anderson said. “It’s a very difficult conversation to have in a place like Luther [College] that has historically prized peaceful resistance. It’s a really challenging topic and I think precisely because of that we want to have really open dialogue and just embrace the complexity instead of running away from it.”

Parker’s film was a wonderful opportunity to open up this conversation on campus, according to Whitsitt.

“Parker wanted [his film] to be a part of conversations regarding race currently,” Whitsitt said.  “We thought we would use that film and develop a series of events.”

During his time onstage with filmmaker Burnett, Whitsitt will inquire about the place Nat Turner has in that conversation.

“I hope to broach the subject of what Nat Turner and his legacy mean to contemporary American society. Given the racial tensions that are particularly ripened right now,” Whitsitt said. “How does Turner relate to that conversation?”

Photo courtesy of Photo Bureau
Dr. Alisha L. Jones preaches at Gospel Sunday.

Other events included Gospel Sunday which took place on Feb. 12. The service was conducted to emulate a service at a Gospel church, honoring the Black Christian experience. The service included music from Cathedral Choir. College Ministries invited Indiana University professor of ethnomusicology, Alisha L. Jones as a guest preacher for the event. Jones talked about many issues surrounding race and biases in her sermon.

“How do I carry those same biases as a black woman?” Jones said in her sermon.

She continued to engage in provoking questions about what it means to be black in America.

Cathedral choir member Janet Irankunda (‘19) had numerous solos throughout the service. She enjoyed being a part of the event.

“I absolutely loved Gospel Sunday,” Irankunda said. “I think that it’s so great that in a place that is predominantly from a more conservative — and for lack of a better word, white — way of worshipping, that we can explore a different path of worship that has deep roots in history and is so freeing.”

Her solos incorporated call and response between herself and the audience. This is an aspect of the service that was especially memorable for her.

“As a Black History Month event, I think it does a good job of teaching students about that rich history,” Irankunda said. “That includes things like learning songs by rote [repetition based memorization].”

Educating the greater Luther community is a major objective of Black History Month. However, it does not end when February does. The Africana studies department offers a multitude of courses that address historical and contemporary issues faced by black America. Whitsitt would like for students to engage with that curricula.

“If it were up to us [the Africana Studies Department] we would ensure that all students had to take at least one Africana studies course to graduate,” Whitsitt said. “We continue to find ways to create interest among the student body, that’s our primary goal.”

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