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Black History Month Events Focus on Defining the African-American Community

Black History Month at the University of Virginia this year features events, all free and open to the public, that highlight black history and community through different media of artistic expression and entertainment. They range from an Australian artist’s interpretation of Thomas Jefferson and slavery to U.Va.’s step team giving a performance that pays homage to black achievement in the arts.

The complete schedule is available here.

When Judy Watson, an Australian Aboriginal artist, visited U.Va. in October 2011 as an artist-in-residence at the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection, she was inspired by Thomas Jefferson’s architectural drawings of the Academical Village. What resulted: her exhibition, “experimental beds” – six etchings that explore the shared experiences of African-American people in Virginia and Aboriginal people in Australia. The prints incorporate Jefferson’s drawings of the Rotunda and pavilions and Watson’s sketches of artifacts unearthed at Monticello’s Mulberry Row and vegetables grown in Jefferson’s “experimental beds.”

Watson’s exhibit is displayed in the South Gallery of the Mary and David Harrison Institute for American History, Literature, and Culture in the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library through May 11.

Henry Wiencek, author of “Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves,” will discuss Watson’s perspective on Jefferson and slavery on Feb. 18 at 5:30 p.m. in the auditorium of Harrison Institute/Small Special Collections Library.

Through the artistic forms of stepping, dancing, acting in skits and oral poetry, U.Va.’s step team, “Step It Up” and several other student groups will give performances Feb. 22 at 6 p.m. in the Student Activities Building. The event’s theme is African-American contributions in the arts that have had tremendous impact throughout the world.

On another evening, Feb. 21, spoken-word artists from U.Va. and the Charlottesville community will display their talents at the “Just Lyricz Open Mic and Poetry Jam.” To be held at 7 p.m. in Newcomb Hall Ballroom, the event features Joshua Bennett, a 24-year-old, award-winning performance poet from Yonkers, N.Y., who has recited his original works at events and venues such as the Sundance Film Festival, the NAACP Image Awards and the White House. In addition to film and television, Bennett has also performed alongside former U.S. poet laureates Billy Collins and U.Va. English professor Rita Dove.

Sponsored by the Office of African-American AffairsLuther P. Jackson Black Cultural Center, the month’s events were selected “to attract individuals to programs that serve as media for academic exchange and continue to resist the ideological approaches traditionally used to illustrate blacks in America,” Dion Lewis, the center’s director, said.

Other co-sponsoring groups include the Black Student Alliance, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, University Dining, Black Leadership Institute, U.Va. NAACP Chapter, Office for Diversity and Equity and Student Council.

Lewis said he hopes this year’s theme, “Creating and Defining the African-American Community,” will demonstrate the importance of a cultural education, which in many ways speaks to an imbalance in ethnicity, class and gender in American society.

Other events include a “Jeopardy!”-style black history bowl on Feb. 15, “Who Wants to Be Enlightened,” to be held at 5 p.m.in the Newcomb Hall South Meeting Room. University students will participate in the game about facts relating to black history in Virginia and the world.

U.Va.’s Black Voices Gospel Choir will host a winter benefit concert on Feb. 23, from 4-6 p.m., at the First Baptist Church on Main Street to support a Charlottesville community charity.

A closing ceremony Feb. 28 will include the sixth annual Image Awards at 7 p.m. in Newcomb Hall Ballroom. Fashioned after the NAACP Image Awards, the ceremony celebrates outstanding achievements, as well as individual or groups who promote social justice through their creative endeavors. Students, faculty and staff will be honored for their commitment and service to the black community at U.Va.

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