As we conclude Black History Month 2021, Jahshua Smith, metro Detroit region program supervisor for AdviseMI, asked MCAN AmeriCorps VISTA Delesiya Davis and four of our AdviseMI college advisers about what the month means to them.

What makes Black History Month important to you?

Kela: I have a deep interest in history, especially African American history, so Black History Month is extremely important and special to me. Being able to openly celebrate my culture and to teach other people things they may not have known about Black history are the best parts for me. Seeing the appreciation that students have as they learn about Black history, beyond the scope of history books, is always a plus.

Normandy: I have always been passionate about my history, whether it be listening to stories shared by my grandparents or researching and reading it on my own. I believe their stories jump-started my interest in Black history, so whenever the month came around, it went into high gear. I find great joy in celebrating Black History Month with the people around me.

Delesiya: This month represents being proud of my heritage and loving both myself and my people for who we are. We have accomplished so much and done so much for this country, and oftentimes it is downplayed or ignored. This is a month specifically for us to celebrate our history and be proud. However, let's be very clear — Black history is made every day and deserves to be celebrated on a daily basis.

Name a Black educational hero who has been integral to your success as a student and adviser.

Kela: Huey P. Newton is one of my Black educational heroes. Aside from founding the Black Panther Party, Newton was heavily invested in education and believed educated African Americans would be the future of the Black Panther Party and society as a whole. One of my favorite quotes, which I use in my email signature, comes from him. “The revolution has always been in the hands of the young. The young will always inherit the revolution.” Newton believed in the youth and believed education and knowledge is essential to social change.

Normandy: Former First Lady Michelle Obama is my educational hero. Her Reach Higher Initiative to inspire students to complete their education past high school is what really inspired me as a young, Black college student and as an adviser. Her initiative has motivated many students to pursue higher education.

Do you plan to incorporate any elements of Black History Month in your service, or in your community?

Kela: I am using daily social media posts to share Black history that may not be common knowledge. I’m also emphasizing historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), including their history and culture, when speaking with students about postsecondary options.

Normandy: I’ve been posting Black history facts on my student’s Google classroom. I also plan on having HBCUs do virtual college visits at Voyageur. Many students have expressed interest in HBCUs, so I feel like this is the perfect time to really encourage them to explore what these schools have to offer.

Susanna: This month I have dedicated the college advising bulletin board and website main page to HBCUs. Many of the seniors have expressed interest in these schools, so I picked the top 25 HBCUs and displayed them on the college advising website. Students and parents are provided with the opportunity to learn about each HBCU by clicking on a school logo that leads directly to the school’s website to learn more.

Do you have a special memory or story surrounding Black History Month?

Jahsh: Only the greatest game show ever invented! Bates [Academy] Battle, a trivia game at my old K-8 school, where each February teams would compete with each other, in each grade, based on questions about important Black leaders and moments in history. Studying for that every year was how I learned about Black pioneers like Sarah Boone, who invented the ironing board. It was a really cool, natural way to excite Black children to learn about their history!

How can this month promote general awareness about diversity, equity, and inclusion? What additional resources are needed as we focus on equity issues concerning Black, indigenous, and other students of color?

Kela: Telling the full history of Black Americans will help promote awareness about diversity, equity, and inclusion. Not too many people and schools put on enriching events to celebrate Black history, which has created a stereotype of Black History Month just being about writing a paper on Martin Luther King Jr. or Rosa Parks instead of actually educating students on the trauma, history, and achievements of Black people in America.

Susanna: Open dialogue discussions, informational sessions, people sharing their stories or experiences in unfair situations, and the creation of an informational video can be helpful to promote general awareness. Providing minority communities with public libraries within their neighborhoods, schools with a full diverse staff and resources, and a community center where children and young adults can learn and engage in afterschool activities can be a way to address the equity issues that are impacting Black, indigenous, and other students of color. Moreover, this month can also be used to educate and promote good financial management/planning, healthcare awareness, and the importance of postsecondary education.

Taylor: There are tons of documentaries, movies, and books that are available for free or at a discounted rate about incredible Black figures and historical events that people may not be aware of. A lot of colleges also use this month as a way to spark informational and necessary conversations through panels, Q&As, and guest speakers. I’ve seen some colleges host art exhibits as well. I feel we’re in a time where diversity, equity, and inclusion are topics that are being openly discussed and explored beyond Black History Month, and they’re being implemented within college classes and curriculum. Hopefully, those conversations and resources continue to be developed and cultivated throughout higher education.

Any tips or insight for students who are interested in historically Black colleges and universities?

Susanna: One insight I share with my students is that HBCUs offer the opportunity to build your own professional network, develop lifelong friendships, and learn more about your culture. Also, the schools provide you the opportunity to be mentored by someone that looks like you, with similar experiences. HBCUs have remained resilient through time and hardships, and for me, that speaks to the importance of their existence to the Black community and students.

Taylor: My recommendation would be for students to apply early to HBCUs (July/August) and to use the Common Black College Application if they plan on applying to several HBCUs. I also encourage them to record their volunteer activities and achievements as they happen, because they will want that information for their applications. I try to always include HBCUs when scheduling college representative visits, and I post opportunities like HBCU college tours in spaces where students will see them.

Delesiya: There can be a stigma when people aren’t familiar with these schools. There is nothing wrong with going to a HBCU. They are just as good as any Predominantly White Institution, and in some ways, they can be even better. You will be surrounded by people who look like you, which hopefully will give you a sense of community. Things are tailored for African American students at HBCUs, and you will have professors who look like you.