NIU today | The Center for Black Studies named Cultural Center of the Year 2021
In a difficult year, NIU’s Center for Black Studies triumphed.
The center recently won the Cultural Center of the Year 2021 award from the Association of Black Cultural Centers (ABCC). Chosen from among their peers at universities and colleges across the country, the Black Studies Center provided extensive support, advocacy, education and empowerment in the midst of a global pandemic and racial injustice.
“I think this award is a testament to our level of hard work,” said Dr Anne Edwards, director of the centre. “For us, it’s a validation of all the work we’ve done, not just the staff at the center, but all the individual contributions and how they poured into the collective.”
Because recognition comes from peers, it takes on added importance, Edwards said.
“So many other cultural centers are doing good work,” she said. “It’s just a very, very big honor to be chosen.”
The ABCC encourages its members and affiliates to build community among ethnic groups through cultural centers in colleges and universities. The organization seeks to celebrate, promote, and explore the historic and contemporary connections that people of African descent have with Latinos, Asian Americans, and Native Americans, while enhancing individual, community, and global development.
As the association’s 2021 Cultural Center of the Year, NIU’s Center for Black Studies has earned the recognition it deserves.
“I am incredibly proud of the Center for Black Studies at NIU for its tireless efforts to advocate, educate and empower our students,” said NIU President Lisa C. Freeman.
Celebrating 50 years in 2021, NIU’s Center for Black Studies addressed the two main themes of “living through a time of pandemic” and “continuing to march toward racial justice and equality.”
As described in the center’s 2021 annual report, fall 2020 brought racism to the center’s steps with the writing of a racial slur on the center building.
“From a town hall of more than 200 black students to student-led protests, hundreds of students across campus have used their collective voices to enact change,” the report said.
Many programs, initiatives and events, offered in person and virtually, engaged the campus and community throughout the year.
Among the most impactful was the “Hateful Things” traveling exhibit, sponsored by the Center for Black Studies and Friends of NIU Libraries and housed at the Pick Museum. Developed by the Jim Crow Museum for Racist Memorabilia, the exhibit showcased more than a century of negative iconography that shaped how people viewed and interacted with black people from the end of the Civil War to the 21st Century.
The center offered extracurricular events and initiatives inspired by the exhibit, including 10 guided tours to NIU classrooms, a virtual guided tour and developing exhibit-inspired lesson plans for middle and high school learners.
Events throughout the year included several town hall meetings and panel discussions, as well as guest speakers, such as Dr. Stanley Arnold’s presentation on “The Beacons of Their Race: African America and the Olympics, 1896- 1948”.
“While the year of COVID-19 offered its challenges, we believe we have been flexible and responsive in continuing to bring quality and engaging programming to the entire NIU community,” Edwards said.
“Overall, the Center for Black Studies staff provided excellent support, advocacy and education. Staff creativity in programming, academic courses, and ways to provide support to students while simultaneously navigating their own personal experiences is to be commended.