On the first official day of Black History Month, students came together to participate in the Center for Race, Ethnicity and Diversity Education's “Black History Month Event Kickoff: For The Culture, Express Yourself,” where participants transformed a blank canvas into art reflecting their feelings on black culture.

Donita Sharkey paints her thoughts about black culture onto a previously blank canvas. Photo by Oliver Fischer.

“We are so fortunate to have a space like the CREDE, so why not host an event where students can come together and celebrate our culture with us through art,” said senior Donita Sharkey, black student success coordinator for the Center for Race, Ethnicity and Diversity Education.

Sharkey led the evenings program by cultivating conversation between students and partaking in the painting.

“Whatever art touches this canvas will reflect the diversity of who we are,” Sharkey said. “Our diversity isn’t expressed a lot because it gets silenced when we are one of thirty in a class. But art is just a communal way to express who we are. We are here and we are ready, black culture is very much here and it's alive.”

This is the first of several events the CREDE will be hosting throughout February in honor of Black History Month. These events were planned to bring students of all races together to celebrate black culture. 

“I came to the kick-off because Black History Month is a way for us — students of color — to have their voices heard in a way that is not often granted to is during other months of the year,” said sophomore Sydney Simmons. “Art is a huge form of self expression in the black community and having this outlet is just a way for us to come together.”

On the canvas, Simmons expressed a message that she wanted to change in society.

“I painted the word ‘worthy’ with two hand prints because growing up and even in today's society, I often feel we are not worthy because that is how the world has made us feel,” Simmons said. “So reinforcing the message ‘You are worthy, everyone is worthy,’ will only allow us to go up from here.” 

The placement of the canvas after the event remains uncertain, as does the effect the art will have on its audience. 

“When you make art you have a message that you intend to get across, but how someone else perceives it can be totally different and that is so powerful,” Sharkey said. “Even if what someone else perceived is different, the art you made could have a lasting effect on the people that see it.” 

CREDE’s first event of the month was considered a success by both coordinators and participants, which has only made students more excited for the rest of February.

“I am so excited for this month,” Simmons said. “Today may have been the first day and the first event, but there are so many other big things to come — I can’t wait.”