The way Darchelle Burnett sees it, history is too often taught in a static manner. For example, in U.S. history, kids are taught about the founders and westward expansion as broad topics.
“When we’re teaching slavery or who the Indians were in school – the way our history is taught – it appears that massacring Indians or slavery was a necessary thing that benefited the U.S.,” she says. Burnett herself is Black and Choctaw, an indigenous group from what is currently Oklahoma. To find about her own heritage, she had to go off the beaten path.
“In a way, we were taught that slavery was good, that it was necessary,” she says. Now, as an anthropology major at CSU Monterey Bay, the president of Black Students United and a student organizer, Burnett is trying to work outside of that framework especially for Black History Month at CSUMB.
She and other students want to show the extent of Black history isn’t just a handful of figures like Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Katherine Johnson, but also include the accomplishments of Black people generations later. “Acknowledge and celebrate them, yes,” she says of celebrated leaders, “but Black history is bigger than a couple of people.”
Of the lineup, she notes that the ideas weren’t just hers, but were inspired by other students, faculty and current events. Events so far have included a keynote and Q&A with Bettina Love, author of We Want to Do More Than Just Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom; a sustainable soul food cooking workshop by Bryant Terry, a James Beard Award-winner and chef-in-residence at San Francisco’s Museum of African Diaspora; and a celebration of Black men, among other sessions.
Events, all virtual, continue for the rest of the month. Here’s a small sampling: a talk with Eesuu Orundide, a multi-medium artist and activist (6pm on Thursday, Feb. 11); a panel with local faith-based leaders about the importance of college enrollment for African-American students in a Super Saturday event (10am on Saturday, Feb. 13); and a workshop on allyship among BIPOC (noon on Monday, Feb. 22). It ends with an All Black Gala, in partnership with the Monterey County chapter of the NAACP.
Burnett gets her chance to shine, too. She’ll talk with CSUMB professor Yhashika Lee about Black excellence on Friday, Feb. 12, from 2-3pm. Given how she feels that so many Black people’s accomplishments are underreported or easily forgotten, she hopes to encourage her fellow Black students.
“Black people are often told not to be proud of their work and if you do, you’re boastful. I think it’s a chance to be boastful and you can celebrate your brilliance,” Burnett says.