Celebrating Black History Month: Honoring Legacy, Embracing Diversity

Today marks the beginning of Black History Month. Observed annually in February, Black History Month stands as a testament to the rich tapestry of African American history, culture, and achievements. This month-long celebration serves as a powerful reminder of the struggles, triumphs, and contributions that have shaped the United States into the diverse and inclusive nation it is today. In this blog, we delve into the significance of this heritage month, its origins, and its alignment with the values upheld by institutions like Michigan Tech.

The roots of Black History Month trace back to the pioneering work of Carter G. Woodson, a distinguished historian and educator. Woodson dedicated his life to ensuring that the significant contributions of African Americans were acknowledged and celebrated. In February 1926, he initiated the observance of “Negro History Week.” Woodson chose this month to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, two influential figures in African American history. Eventually, the week evolved into Black History Month.

Black History Month serves as an annual opportunity to highlight the achievements, resilience, and culture of African Americans. It aims to foster a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by the community while also celebrating their legacy in various fields such as science, literature, arts, and politics. By promoting inclusivity and acknowledging diversity, Black History Month encourages a shared appreciation of the contributions of African Americans throughout history.

Michigan Tech, as a globally recognized technological university, holds a steadfast commitment to educating students, advancing knowledge, and innovating to improve the quality of life for all people. Our vision is rooted in the promotion of mutual respect and equity within the state, the nation, and the global community. In this context, our celebration of Black History Month goes beyond acknowledgment; it becomes an integral part of our commitment to fostering diversity and inclusion.

We recognize Black History Month not only as a time to reflect on the achievements, resilience, and contributions of African Americans, but also as an opportunity to actively celebrate and amplify diverse voices. Michigan Tech sees this month as a crucial element in our broader vision of creating a community that embraces and values the richness of all histories and backgrounds.

Our commitment extends beyond passive recognition to active engagement, with events, discussions, and initiatives that celebrate the achievements of African Americans. By incorporating Black History Month into our cultural fabric, Michigan Tech is actively contributing to the realization of our vision for mutual respect and equity. We believe that recognizing and celebrating the diverse contributions of African Americans is essential in shaping a more inclusive and equitable society.

As a technological university, we understand the importance of diverse perspectives in driving innovation. Black History Month becomes a platform for us to not only honor the past but also to inspire future generations to contribute to advancements in science, technology, and other fields. By actively engaging in the celebration of Black History Month, we align ourselves with our vision of being a hub for knowledge and innovation that respects and values the diversity of the global community.

Black History Month is not only a time for celebration but also an occasion for a somber reflection on the painful chapters of history. One such unfortunate and terrible event that is part of our history is the Black Wall Street Massacre of 1921. This tragic event in Tulsa, Oklahoma, involved the destruction of a prosperous Black community, underscoring the systemic racism that has pervaded the nation’s history. Remembering such incidents is crucial in fostering empathy, understanding, and working towards a more just and equitable future.

As we celebrate Black History Month, it is essential to spotlight the remarkable contributions of African Americans. Whether in the fields of science, technology, literature, or activism, these individuals have played a pivotal role in shaping the world we live in today.

Dr. Charles Drew, a distinguished physician and surgeon, played a groundbreaking role in the field of medicine. Known as the “Father of the Blood Bank,” Dr. Drew’s innovative work in blood transfusion and storage significantly advanced medical practices, saving countless lives. His contributions revolutionized the healthcare industry, showcasing the immense impact African Americans have had on scientific advancements.

Dorothy Vaughan, a pioneering mathematician and NASA scientist, made significant contributions to the United States’ space program. As one of the leading African American women at NASA, Vaughan played a crucial role in the success of early space missions. Her expertise and leadership in computer systems were integral to the success of NASA’s space exploration, breaking down barriers for African American women in STEM fields.

Marsha P. Johnson, a transgender activist and prominent figure in the LGBTQIA+ rights movement, made significant strides in advocating for the rights of the transgender community. Johnson played a pivotal role in the Stonewall Uprising of 1969, a turning point in the fight for LGBTQIA+ rights. As a co-founder of the Gay Liberation Front, Johnson dedicated her life to promoting inclusivity and acceptance, leaving an enduring legacy for the LGBTQIA+ community.

In celebrating Black History Month at Michigan Tech, we shine a spotlight on the extraordinary contributions of two African American way pavers who have enriched the University’s legacy of inclusive excellence. Betty Chavis and Brenda Ryan, both trailblazers in their own right, have left an indelible mark on Michigan Tech, embodying the spirit of diversity, leadership, and excellence.

Betty Chavis, a Detroit native and alumna of Cass Technical High School, joined Michigan Tech in 1989 at the invitation of President Dale Stein. Tasked with diversifying and expanding the student population, Chavis spent 25 years playing a pivotal role in various campus student groups and committees. Her initiatives, such as Black History Week and the Parade of Nations, became enduring traditions, celebrating the achievements of Black Americans and showcasing the diverse nationalities represented by Michigan Tech students.

Chavis’s commitment to diversity extended beyond her role as the Director of Outreach and Multi-Ethnic Programs. She developed programs addressing diversity needs, recruited minority students, and received numerous awards for her contributions. Her legacy includes the Betty Chavis Emergency Fund and the Betty Chavis Scholarship Fund, supporting students facing financial emergencies.

In retirement, Chavis continued to make a positive impact on the Keweenaw region, contributing to community organizations like the Barbara Kettle Gundlach Shelter Home. Her store, Betty’s CAAT, became a testament to her engaging personality and connection to the Parade of Nations legacy.

Brenda Ryan, another distinguished African American way paver, has played a pivotal role in Michigan Tech’s history. Serving as the Board of Trustees Vice-Chair and Chair from 2015 to 2022, Ryan’s contributions extend beyond her official roles, involving active participation in various committees and boards.

As a trailblazer in science, technology, engineering, and production, Ryan is the president and owner of multiple successful enterprises. Her achievements have earned her prestigious recognitions, including the Chrysler Group LLC—Diversity Supplier of the Year accolades in 2011 and 2020. In December 2022, the Michigan Tech Board of Trustees awarded her an honorary Doctor of Philosophy degree, acknowledging her substantial impact on the University.

Ryan’s leadership, marked by distinction in engineering and entrepreneurship, has quietly shaped Michigan Tech’s trajectory. Her enduring dedication, spanning decades, exemplifies excellence and serves as a fitting tribute during Black History Month. Both Betty Chavis and Brenda Ryan stand as inspiring figures, their contributions woven into the fabric of Michigan Tech’s commitment to diversity, inclusion, and academic excellence.

Black History Month serves as a powerful reminder that the narrative of America is profoundly intertwined with the stories of African Americans. By commemorating this month, we not only honor the past but also strive toward a more inclusive and equitable future. Michigan Tech’s commitment to diversity and the active celebration of Black History Month underscores the importance of embracing and recognizing the richness of our collective history.