‘A Celebration of Black Harvard’: Undergraduates Partake in Black History Month Events


Throughout February, Harvard students are commemorating Black History Month with celebrations put on by undergraduate houses and affinity groups.

Black History Month annually recognizes the accomplishments of Black Americans and their role in United States history. The celebration was initiated by historian Carter G. Woodson, who completed his Ph.D. at Harvard in 1912, and has been recognized by every U.S. president since 1976.

Pforzheimer House resident Elyse G. Martin-Smith ’25 said her house “really stepped up” for the month. Martin-Smith participated in a Black women’s self-care night and an African diaspora listening party organized by the House’s race relations tutors.

Martin-Smith, a member of the Harvard Black Students Association, said she appreciated the opportunity to discuss Black identity with her peers in a residential space without having to plan the events.


“I do a lot of planning myself, and to have that burden taken off me for just a minute — and having tutors or deans step up and take that event planning into their own hands — meant a lot,” she said.

The celebrations continued at other houses. At Quincy House, residents visited Frugal Bookstore, a Black-owned bookstore, to purchase books for the House’s Junior Common Room. The house also hosted a walking tour of the Black Heritage Trail, which ends at the Museum of African American History in Boston.

Quincy resident B. Ashton Alexander ’23 attended a screening of the documentary “Soul Food Junkies,” catered by Black-owned soul food restaurant Coast Cafe.

“It was an opportunity for members of the house to come together as a collective and as a community, and anytime you can do that over good food, it just seems like a win-win,” he said.

All house dining halls also commemorated Black History Month on Thursday with menus that took inspiration from influential Black chefs, according to Harvard University Dining Services spokesperson Crista Martin.

Winthrop House also offered an “African Heritage Diet” cooking class last Friday, Martin added.

Outside of the houses, campus affinity groups for Black students held events to celebrate.

On Saturday, BSA hosted their sixth annual Black Legacy Ball, which celebrated “Black Culture and the achievements of Black people at the College and beyond,” according to the group’s website.

Michael O. Omole ’24, BSA vice president, took the lead in planning the event, which he described as “a celebration of Black Harvard.”

The ball honors two faculty members and a high school student each year. This year’s honorees were Cambridge Rindge and Latin School senior and incoming Harvard student Helen Hailemariam; Harvard Gullah language instructor Sunn m’Cheaux; and Theater, Dance, and Media lecturer Shamell Bell — an original member of the Black Lives Matter movement.

BSA’s other upcoming events include a Diversity Career Expo, the Black Boston Bash — a party with other Boston-area universities — and a Black History Month mixer.

BSA President Rothsaida Sylvaince ’24 said Black History Month is a time to “celebrate both the history and the future” of Black Americans.

“With events like the Black Legacy Ball — but also some of the other events that we’ve had this month — it was an opportunity for us to really get a chance to highlight what work has been done historically and also think about ways for us to move forward as a community,” Sylvaince said.

The Harvard Black Men’s Forum sent out a trivia question each day of the month featuring figures in Black history. BMF Secretary Christopher D. Wright ’25 said the group also partnered with other Black organizations and the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations to put on a trivia event called Hella Black Trivia.

“We really want to expose people to these untold figures and untold narratives and get people to research more about Black history,” Wright said. “Oftentimes, Black history is not told alongside American history or world history.”

The Generational African American Students Association organized events including a cross-cultural discussion called “Uncovering our Black Histories” with the Harvard African Students Association, a Black poetry workshop and discussion with the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, and the inaugural Mardi Gras Mixer on Monday with Daylan Davis, Miss Black Massachusetts 2023.

Jaivyance G. “Jai” Gillard ’25, GAASA’s social chair, described the Mardi Gras Mixer as a “heartwarming” time to “be in community and fellowship with one another.”

“Celebrating Black History Month to us means recognition,” GAASA President Jordan K. Young ’25 said. “At the end of day, what we’re trying to do is create a space where we can celebrate Blackness.”

GAASA Events Chair Aimee R. Howard ’25 said Black History Month grew out of a “call for visibility” among generational African Americans.

“A lot of our celebration has been just that: a recognition of our past, but also celebrating how far we’ve come through joy,” she added.

Gillard said that, despite the designation of February as Black History Month, the celebrations will continue.

“As generational African American students, we live this story — we live Black History Month — every day,” she said.

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