West Liberty University celebrates Black History Month


WLU Media Relations

WLU President, Dr. W. Franklin Evans.

February is Black History Month. It marks a four-week period dedicated to acknowledging and celebrating the impact and influence of Black individuals throughout time and bringing attention to the issues that are currently being faced by the Black community. Black History Month is celebrated all over the country and West Liberty is no exception.

For the third year in a row, the WLU Campus and Community Diversity Committee has organized an African American Read-In event. The read-in is part of a broader project set up by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTA). The NCTA website says the event was “established in 1990 by the Black Caucus of the National Council of Teachers of English to make literacy a significant part of Black History Month. This initiative has reached more than 6 million participants around the world.”

The WLU read-in is set to take place on Thursday, March 24, in the Alumni Room of the College Union. The goal is to have as many individuals as possible participate in reading aloud from texts written by African American authors. Dr. Amanda Tennant, the diversity committee member directing the event said, “The goal is to have a time to listen to African American perspectives in recognition that those perspectives are often marginalized in our society.”

After the read-ins initial success in 2020, the diversity committee opted for a virtual event in 2021 due to concerns surrounding COVID-19. This year, the event is primarily in-person, but participants can send in recordings of readings as well.

“The committee got together to determine events that could be planned to celebrate diversity and make the West Liberty Community more inclusive of different perspectives,” said Tennant. “I had seen it at my church in Pittsburgh. So, that’s where I first became familiar with it and we decided it would be worth trying at the university.”

WLU President, Dr. W Franklin Evans participated in last year’s read-in with a piece by poet Maya Angelou on aging. “Maya Angelou is certainly one of those people that I admire. She is certainly one of those people who was a great thinker, great philosopher, but just a kind and generous person who understood that we’re all in this together and that we have to love and work with one another,” said Evans.

Evans is WLU’s first African American President and is using his position to support the work of the committee and promote diversity and inclusion on the hilltop. “West Liberty has an initiative to certainly have an appreciation for diversity, equity and inclusion. And so, for me, it’s more about just a theme or just a goal, it’s reality and what I’d like is for the institution to embrace diversity more,” said Evans.

Evans has been surrounded by activism all his life. His parents were highly involved in a number of activities and were members of the NAACP. Since then, he has continuously spread his desire for more inclusion and diversity throughout his career. “I don’t necessarily consider myself an activist, others do. But I will tell you it’s just a part of who I am,” said Evans.

Since becoming the WLU President, Evan’s has played an important role in increasing the levels of diversity regarding campus faculty. “Since I have been here, we have hired a Black diversity officer and one of our deans is Black,” said Evans. This combined with the efforts of the diversity committee is progressing WLU towards it’s target of being diverse, inclusive and culturally aware.

Black history is important to acknowledge and incorporate into our learning. Understanding how different communities have influenced the world we live in today and being aware of those experiences is essential in helping us to understand and support one another as a broader community. “I think it’s important to celebrate because black perspectives have often been historically marginalized in our culture. There are ways that we are trying to respond to that. I think that this is just one small way to acknowledge the importance of different perspectives and realize that we need to make attempts to be more inclusive,” said Tennant.

Evans said, “Although this is black history month, it’s sad that we only pay homage to it in February. For black people, we celebrate black history twelve months of the year, but for other people, February is the month that they acknowledge and celebrate it. I’m just happy that this month is still designated as that and that we can highlight and identify the accomplishments that people of color have made.”

Though specific attention is dedicated to black history during this month, the conversation surrounding diversity and awareness must persist past Feb. 28. “Although this is black history month and we certainly want to focus on the accomplishments of black people, I think it’s important that every month, every week, that we’re able to recognize someone, a nationality, a race, a group and that we do so and that we’re showing sensitivity as well as appreciation for those differences,” said Evans.

The read-in is a great opportunity to get involved in black history month and take a first step in spreading awareness and raising a voice. “This is a way to set aside a chunk of time and listen to a variety of texts that represent different aspects of African American experiences and perspectives,” said Tennant.

Evans said, “You can be a committee of one. If nothing but to just be enlightened, go to an event, go to an activity. It only takes one person to get involved, to be an activist, to make things happen.”
The diversity committee’s efforts extend beyond just the read-in. In conjunction with the Elbin Library, a display has been set up exclusively featuring black literature and poetry. A call also went out to campus at the end of January seeking recipes from students, faculty and staff inspired by African American cuisine and culture to be incorporated into a lunch menu for the Marketplace during Black History Month.

For more information about events orchestrated by the diversity committee, contact Chris McPherson or Dr. Felipe Rojas.