Black History Month, celebrated in February each year, commemorates the heritage of African Americans and their contributions to U.S. society. The theme for Black History Month this year is “A Century of Black Life, History and Culture” and chronicles the important contributions by African-Americans to art, literature, sports and pop culture.
During the month long celebration of black history and black life, the American Center hosted a series of programs to underscore the values of diversity and social inclusion. U.S. Fulbright English Teaching Assistants (ETAs) introduced the concept of “Black History Month” to the Access students from Sir Syed Group of Schools as part of their teaching tools for the month. On February 19th at a special program with these students, Greg Pardo, Deputy Director American Center-Kolkata did a book reading from Linda Lowery’s “Martin Luther King Day” to provide background on how this commemorative day was instituted in the United States to remember the life and teachings of Martin Luther King. The students then showcased their learnings through a short skit on the battle for equality and a demonstration of hip-hop, as a medium of cultural expression. Hip-hop originated in African-American communities in the United States.
The American Library facilitated a session of open dialogue around the question, “What does it mean to be Black in America?” led by Fulbright English Teaching Assistant, Simone Gordon. The library also hosted well attended screenings of popular and critically acclaimed films, The Butler(2013) and The Pursuit of Happyness (2006) as part of the American Center’s Black History Month celebrations.
The commemoration of Black History Month hit a high note at the American Center on February 26th, with a cultural evening which paid tribute to the socio-cultural contributions of African-Americans. In his opening welcome remarks Greg Pardo, Deputy Director of the American Center reconfirmed, “The United States embraces mixed heritage, and multiculturalism, where diversity in race, creed, ethnic origin, color and gender orientation is celebrated as a proof of the strength of democracy.” This was followed by an inspiring selection of African-American poetry readings, by students of Shri Shikshayatan College, led by their Assistant Professor, Department of English Dr. Tania Chakravertty, who is also an alumna of a U.S. State Department funded leadership exchange program.
A dance showcase by Rhythmosaic demonstrated the influence of black American jazz dance, its successive progression with blues jazz, jazz funk and the influence of tap jazz, finally culminating into the global unison of tap jazz and kathak.
Highlighting the vibrant people-to-people relationships between the United States and India, local pianist Pradyumna “Paddy” Singh Manot and New York based singer-song writer Megan Powers wooed the crowd with their musical impression of the history of jazz through performances ranging from early creole music of the 1800s to Louis Armstrong and singers like Billie Holiday and Betty Carter as their final act.
Showcasing how African Americans’ contributions and progress have positively affected U.S. society through the month of February, U.S. Consulate Kolkata, highlighted common values and ideals of democracy, liberty, diversity and individual enterprise between the United States and India. In both our countries, in India and America, our diversity is our strength.