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Black History Month in Northeast Ohio: Tracking the origins at Kent State University

After a year of planning, Black History Month was established at Kent State in 1970.

KENT, Ohio — As we turn the calendar to February, it also means we officially begin Black History Month.

Kent State University traces its roots all the way back to 1969 when the university’s Black United Students organization advocated for an entire month dedicated to Black history.

At the time, there was only the Negro History Week that was celebrated during the second week of February. After a year of planning, Black History Month was established at Kent State in 1970.

"When you talk about that sense of belonging and walking through the building and you see pictures of Black people, there is no other building like this on campus,” says Mwatabu Baba Okantah, chair of Africana students at KSU. “There's no building like this anywhere in the country. There are other Black cultural centers, but nothing like this."

Baba Okantah, who is also a poet and professor, was just a freshman when Black History Month was established on campus.

"I'm the last person who was actually an undergrad student here in the 1970s who has seen this go through all of its manifestations,” he tells 3News’ Brianna Dahlquist.

It would be another six years before President Ford declared February as Black History Month.

"It's special because I can literally say to the students that I am a part of a generation of Black United Students that dreamed about your presences here,” he says.

Deanna Baccus, a junior and the president of the Black United Students, says she’s inspired to keep walking in the footsteps of those who came before her.

"If people paved the way, why not make the way long?” she says. “Make the path longer for other people to take and make it go around multiple times."

From the art gallery, theater and all throughout the lecture halls, Baba Okantah says the legacy of Black excellence is all around.

"That's why this building is here, that's what this building represents."

Kent State is hosting a special Black History Month event this Thursday at 5:30 p.m. Bernice King, the daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King, is the keynote speaker.

You can see a full list of KSU events in honor of Black History Month HERE.

Editor's note: Video in the player above was originally published in a previous story on Jan. 16, 2023.

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