LA CROSSE, Wis. (WLAX/WEUX) – Due to the effects of COVID-19, a Black History Month tradition at UW-La Crosse has a new twist. First News at Nine’s David LaClair goes behind the scenes with students as they make history of their own.
The month of February marks a tradition at University of Wisconsin-La Crosse as voices of color come together in honor of Black History Month.
As a staff member for over 20 years and two-time UWL l alum, Antoiwana Williams is no stranger to the university’s Annual Reflections of Ebony Program.
Williams said, “Over 25-26 years ago, it was called the Jazzpagne Ball of Elegance. Then as the demographic of our students and shades of black and brown of our students shifted on our campus, we wanted to reflect the variations of melanin.
Since September, UWL’s Black Student Union, or BSU, has worked in organizing the annual celebration.
Kameesha Thomas, BSU President, and UWL Public Health Education major said, “We are a student organization on campus, and we are held in the multicultural student’s office so just trying to gather all our fellow black people and people who want to uplift black voices on campus.”
This year’s event will feature “Humanize My Hoodie”, an activist group created by Jason Sole and Andre Wright.
Jaia Edwards, BSU Secretary, and UWL Psychology major said, “One is the main fashion designer, and the other one is a professor, so it’s pretty cool how they collaborate with one another and do something amazing with art.”
“They use fashion and their brand of shirts that say “humanize my hoodie” on it to bring awareness to racial bias. Hoodies worn on black men specifically can make them be seen as more violent or to be feared, that bias,” said Breckin Sargent, BSU Event Coordinator, and UWL Psychology major.
“We’ve had a variety of different performances and speakers, some national, some local, some regional talent. It’s just dependent on what the students are feeling that year, what the momentum is, and they decide,” said Williams.
The event regularly takes place on the second floor in the university’s student union.
This year, however, will look a bit different. What would normally be a 2-hour ceremony in the bluffs room, this year is a 2-day all-virtual event via zoom.
Ezedike Chioma, BSU Vice President, and UWL Applied Math major said, “BSU is the oldest student organization at UWL, so with reflections always being an in-person type of thing, giving the circumstances we are part of history. We are attempting the first-ever virtual version of what is to be reflections, and I think that’s what motivates us to work through and make it nice for everybody.”
Edwards said, “It’s going to be a documentary about Andre and Jason, then after the documentary, we’re going to go into breakout rooms and kind of discuss processed information and reflect on everything.”
Even without a physical presence in the student union building this year, the event’s message of raising black voices remains intact.
“For us, to continue to learn about our own identities and then also making sure we’re putting that responsibility on our shoulders to educate the rest of the community,” said Williams.
Sargemt said, “BSU’s mission is to uplift black voices. Jason and Andre are both really amazing public speakers and activities. Just support them and having them support us with their words, motivation, and support as people of color, black people specifically.”
Williams said, “As we continue to evolve as black people, we want this to be integrated throughout the fabric of everything we do on a daily basis as Black Americans.
Members of BSU say reflections give them a sense of pride, which they say can lead to a stronger community in the long run.
Celebrating Black History Month, David LaClair, First News at Nine.
This year’s reflections of ebony will take place on February 26th & 27th, with the first day specifically focused on students and Saturday’s event being open to the public. Registration and links to the sessions will be posted closer to the date on UW-La Crosse and the BSU’s social media pages.