Carlton Floyd looked at the audience gathered inside the Hahn University Center Exhibit Hall Gallery and smiled.
“When I look out at all of you, I see what I want this university to look like,” said Floyd, PhD, an English professor and associate provost and director of the University of San Diego’s Center for Inclusion and Diversity (CID).
The room was filled with USD students, staff, faculty and administrators representing a good cross-section of the campus population. There was plenty of food, drink and special Red Velvet and carrot cupcakes for everyone to enjoy. A music mix including B.B. King and Curtis Mayfield provided an energetic vibe and poignant messages within its lyrics. There were beautiful photographs on the walls capturing the spirit of community outreach in Duncans, Jamaica and locally, where 350 USD representatives marched in the annual downtown parade honoring civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. on his birthday.
Floyd (pictured, right) spoke on Feb. 1, the start of the national Black History Month celebration, touching on the importance of self and social recognition, respect and education. Each of these traits is necessary when celebrating the history of anyone, regardless of one’s race, religion, gender, sex, social, economic background, or ethnicity.
“If you don’t have a past, do you have a present? Do you exist at all?” Floyd offered.
He spoke of Dr. Carter G. Woodson, a historian credited with the 1926 launch of Negro History Week. Woodson centered Negro History Week in February to coincide with and honor the birthdays of two men with key roles in the emancipation of slavery, Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.
“When Dr. Woodson introduced it, his intent wasn’t to sell something, it was about educating others,” Floyd said.
The monthly celebration designation didn’t happen until 1976, 50 years later.
“I don’t think that’s what he really would have wanted,” Floyd said. “The thought of having one month’s designation to reflect on black history or any other group’s history essentially renders that history as irrelevant in the remaining 11 months. Woodson’s goal was to move us to a place in which black history was so thoroughly infused in American history as to render a week or a month devoted to it unnecessary. We have not reached that goal, however,” Floyd noted, “and so Black History Month remains important.”
“A limited knowledge of black history suggests a limited knowledge of American history,” he said. “There needs to be recognition and respect for all people. We all need to be a part of it. It’s significant to the shaping of America.”
“The past is always present,” he continued. “Black history is a living presence that allows us to see things about ourselves and our relationships with others we would not otherwise see. It is a history that helps us come together, and makes us what we are today.”
Floyd, born in Cleveland, used his own history as an example. His mother raised him, one of six children, on her own after his father passed away when Floyd was three. His mother, who managed to get her high school diploma in the same year Floyd received his, stressed the importance of education to her children. All but one has a college degree or more. That, and other childhood memories such as fishing with family friends who took the time to nurture and encourage him shape his personal story. It’s his desire to have people come together, share their personal stories, and let the learning follow.
“Let’s break bread together,” he said. “And, as Bob Marley says, ‘One Love, One Mind.’”
— Ryan T. Blystone
More events taking place in February and beyond:
• CID hosts “Sweet Celebration in the Gallery” events each Wednesday in February (8, 15, 22 and 29) in the UC Exhibit Gallery from noon to 2 p.m. Learn about CID, celebrate diversity and enjoy sweet treats. The Feb. 8 event is a Spoken Word Poetry program by Miesha “Ocean” Rice and Kendrick Dial.
• The USD Black Graduate Student Association (BGSA) will host an alumni mixer, 4-6 p.m., on Saturday, Feb. 11 on the La Gran Terraza Terrace. That will be followed by the BGSA Alumni Athletics Basketball Game Night Recognizing Black People of Note at the University of San Francisco-USD men’s basketball game, 6 p.m. in the Jenny Craig Pavilion.
• As a call to service, the CID will cohost the (In)Visible Project Installation on homelessness in San Diego by Roberto (Bear) Guerra in Plaza Menor between the UC and the SLP, Feb. 13-27, and a panel discussion, “Solutions to Homelessness,” on Feb. 23, 7 pm, in the IPJ Theatre.
• The CID/Black Storytellers of San Diego (BSSD) Inc. National Endowment for the Arts presents a series of “Big Read” community book group events tied to Tim O’Brien’s book, The Things They Carried on March 13, April 3 and April 24 from 12:30-1:30 p.m. in the UC, Room 107. O’Brien will deliver a keynote address May 1 at 7 p.m. in the UC Forums A and B.