Marking Black History Month + Social Justice Talks in NYC

By Alison Durkee

We’re now at the start of Black History Month, in which we honor the incredible contributions that African-Americans have made throughout U.S. history. In the wake of the current immigration restrictions, it’s also more important than ever to celebrate and fight for America’s diversity. Learn more about social justice struggles and triumphs both past and present at these upcoming New York City events.

Learn more about the history of race in America through the lens of the influential black newspaper The Defender on February 9, or get a look at that same history in higher education on February 13. On February 16, Black feminist scholar Hortense Spillers will discuss the aftermath of the terrifying American idea that children born to an enslaved mother would be enslaved in an event at Barnard College. Those wanting some more local history can explore the history of African-American life in the Bronx from the 1930s to 1960s on February 27, or join a Green-Wood Cemetery trolley tour centering on well-known African-American Brooklynites on February 25.

To learn more about Rep. John Lewis, a legendary figure in black history who is still fighting for our rights, head to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture on February 15 for a screening of the documentary Get in the Way: The Journey of John Lewis. Those interested in the current state of race in America can attend a conversation with author Christina Sharpe (February 6) on the sign of the slave ship’s contemporary influence, or learn more about race in today’s higher education at Counter-Narratives of Race, Resistance and Language Learning in College Classrooms (February 17).

Of course, the history of social justice for minorities around the world goes beyond the black experience. Educate yourself on the tragedy of the Holocaust this winter by attending such events as Irina’s Children, which focuses on the little-known story of a woman who saved 2,500 children from the Warsaw ghetto (February 9) and a discussion of reparations during and after the Holocaust on February 16. On February 18, delve into the history of Roe v. Wade to understand its still-divisive legacy, or get a closer look at a revolutionary NYC institution with a history of Housing Works on February 21.

Doris Bittar, Stripes & Stars: Opalescent

In our contentious political age, it’s also imperative that we understand more about the issues we’re facing right now. A February 4 event at Trinity Church will center on the water crises and inequality facing Flint, Michigan and towns around America, while Divided in a Diverse City (February 8) will tackle an issue even closer to home: racial segregation in New York City. The Museum of Jewish Heritage will take on expression at a February 8 event exploring hate speech online and how to counter it, as well as a linguistic study of anti-Semitic speech in contemporary Germany on February 16. Of course, one of the direst issues facing the world todayparticularly in light of the president’s executive orderis immigration and the refugee crisis. A group of PEN writers will reflect on the refugee crisis at BAM on February 18, while a March 24 event will put the spotlight on the personal stories of LGBT refugees. On March 27, the CUNY Graduate Center will spotlight the voices of those impacted by Trump’s executive order at UN-BANNED: A Day of Philosophy, Poetry, Politics and the Arts, while refugee Jacqueline Murekatete, founder of the Genocide Survivors Foundation, will discuss her personal journey at an event on February 22. The impact of Trump’s presidency on immigration and the apparel industry will serve as the focus of a conversation at the Pratt Institute on February 7.

In examining these social justice topics, it’s also important to consider their relationship with culture and the arts. The New-York Historical Society will tackle the connection between social justice and film with their Justice in Film series, featuring screenings of Lincoln (February 10) and The Cider House Rules (February 17). This cinematic connection will be explored further with filmmaker Tami Gold at Rising Up Angry: Filmmaking for Social Justice on February 21, while a February 25 event will take on the radical feminism behind the TV show Buffy and the Vampire Slayer. On February 5, a variety of artists from all genres will converge at PS1 to present projects exploring themes of personal identity, mutual expression, and community.

Sheila Pree Bright, #1960Now: Art + Intersection, 2015. © Sheila Pree Bright

Of course, in the age of Instagram and Snapchat it’s also necessary to interrogate how we’re affected by the images we create and consume. This relationship is currently being explored at the International Center for Photography with their exhibition Perpetual Revolution: The Image and Social Change; learn more at an event with its curators on February 8. On February 7, the New School will put the feminist image in the spotlight at Our Bodies, Online, a conversation discussing how women choose to present themselves online and what feminist power potential this imagery wields.

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