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UM Black History Month Events to Honor, Empower Changemakers

By Clara Turnage

University of Mississippi

Judy (left) and James Meredith watch the proceedings of the ‘The Mission Continues: Building Upon the Legacy’ keynote event during the University of Mississippi’s celebration of 60 years of integration. Judy Meredith will give this year’s Black History Month keynote address and present her documentary, ‘Who is James Meredith?’ on Feb. 16. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

The University of Mississippi’s Black History Month celebrations this year coincide with the commemoration of 60 years of integration at the state’s flagship, giving attendees an opportunity to honor both today’s changemakers and the people who paved their way.

Judy Alsobrooks Meredith, documentarian, retired professor of mass communications and wife of the university’s first African American student, James Meredith, will present the Black History Month keynote address on Feb. 16 and host a screening of her new documentary, “Who Is James Meredith?”

“Spotlighting Black history this time of year is a great way to honor and celebrate those individuals who have created change, like Mr. Meredith and Dr. Judy Meredith,” said Shawnboda Mead, vice chancellor for diversity and community engagement. “We’re especially excited to learn more about who James Meredith is straight from someone who has such a personal relationship with him. Who could tell his story better?”

The documentary, which was previewed at the keynote event honoring James Meredith in September 2022, captures the life of the man who integrated Ole Miss by way of casual conversations and retellings of momentous events. Judy Meredith, who directed and narrated the documentary, said in a statement that she intended the documentary to show her husband as an “agent of change who proved that just one person can make a difference for the betterment of society.”

“No matter how much you know, there is always more to learn,” Mead said. “Black History Month is really about putting yourself in that moment where people faced so much adversity and thinking, ‘What can I do?’ How can you make a difference in the world, your community, your state, your nation?”

Phillis George, department chair and associate professor of higher education and president of the Black Faculty and Staff Organization, said she wants attendees of this year’s Black History Month events to walk away knowing that they, too, can make a change.

“I want everyone to walk away with a profound sense of empowerment,” George said. “Further, I want them to know that they, too, can be champions of change and to recognize that others have come before them and are now passing the baton. It’s time for us to take on that mantle and answer the clarion call.”

During the keynote event, the Black Faculty and Staff Organization will announce the 2023 recipients of the Lift Every Voice Award, a recognition given to individuals who embody diversity, equity and inclusion in their work.

The award has been given each year since 2006, with awardees such as Charles Ross, professor of history and African American studies; Susan Glisson, former director of the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation; and Robert Khayat and Dan Jones, former UM chancellors.

“It’s a way to honor and acknowledge those who have gone above and beyond,” George said. “What’s unique about these individuals is they never stop, often without recognition and without reward. This is our way of saying thank you and, more importantly, ‘We see you.'”

Sarah Piñón, assistant director of inclusion and cross cultural engagement, whose office aids in the organization and promotion of Black History Month events, said she emphasizes that the celebration of Black history isn’t confined to February or to anniversaries.

“This gives us an opportunity to not only think about the past but grapple with the issues that are still happening today,” Piñón said. “It’s a time for us to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, but we shouldn’t do that just one month out of the year.”

George and Piñón agreed that advocacy and progress can happen everywhere and at any time.

“The most meaningful acts of advocacy and change often happen in still and quiet everyday moments,” George said. “When you’re empowered and intentional, you understand that no moment or action is insignificant.

“Indeed, you treat every life moment which you are gifted as an opportunity to bring forth good and lasting change in the world. That’s the responsibility that befalls all of us.”

Scheduled events for Black History Month include:

Feb. 16:

  • Documentary screening of “Who Is James Meredith?” with discussion, 3 p.m., Gertrude C. Ford Ole Miss Student Union, Room 326
  • Keynote address by Judy Meredith, 6 p.m., Gertrude C. Ford Ole Miss Student Union Ballroom

Feb. 17:

  • 10th annual Black History Month Gala, 6 p.m., The Inn at Ole Miss, tickets available through ForUM
  • University Wind Ensemble Concert honoring James Meredith, with music from African American composers. 7 p.m., Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts

Feb. 23:

  • Discussion on James Meredith’s legacy with Joy Williamson-Lott, author of “Jim Crow Campus: Higher Education and the Struggle for a New Southern Social Order,” 4:30 p.m., Robert C. Khayat Law Center, Weems Auditorium, Room 1078

Feb. 25:

  • Annual Oxford-Lafayette NAACP Banquet, hosted by University Development and the Oxford-Lafayette NAACP, location to be announced

Feb. 27:

  • Faculty and graduate student forum on race and ethnicity in the United States and abroad, hosted by the Center for the Study of Southern Culture and the Envisioned Center for the Study of Race and Racism, 9:30 a.m., Triplett Alumni Center, Butler Auditorium

See these events and more at the university’s All In. All Year. calendar.


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