Arkansas Tech University students, faculty and staff gathered at Hindsman Tower on Wednesday, Feb. 1, to celebrate the beginning of Black History Month 2017 with a balloon release and program about the civil rights progress that has been made in the United States over the past century-plus.
As junior Malik Oliver of Russellville watched the balloons float away, he realized the ceremony carries special meaning.
“To me, it symbolizes freedom,” said Oliver, who is president of United Voices of Praise, historian for Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, a NUFP Fellow and a member of both the GOLD Cabinet executive board and the Department of Diversity and Inclusion advisory board at Arkansas Tech. “We are free on this campus, and we are not bound or held by anything. We are allowed to go out and do the things that people fought for us to be able to do. It’s amazing to be able to do that on this campus because it means that people here agree with that as well.
“Black History Month teaches us about all the people who fought for us to be free and to have the same rights as others,” continued Oliver, “and that they also fought for other people such as Hispanics and other races. When we receive the same opportunities that are given to someone else, it makes us feel just as human as anyone else.”
Dr. MarTeze Hammonds, associate dean for diversity and inclusion at Arkansas Tech, was among the speakers at the balloon release ceremony. Those in attendance were invited to study a display telling the story of multiple civil rights champions from throughout American history.
“The importance lies in the education factor,” said junior Nathaniel Palmer of Little Rock, president of the African American Student Association, creative chair for Student Activities Board, vice president for Alpha Phi Alpha and member of the Presidential Leadership Cabinet at Arkansas Tech. “Once you educate someone on their significance and their up-bringing, it acts as a fuel to keep them driving to learn more about their circumstances and where they come from. A lot of times it is a pivotal piece that is needed for the advancement of their lives. People need to hear and see where they come from and what they can be to strive to reach greater. People thrive off inspiration.
“To understand where you are going, you have to understand where you come from,” continued Palmer. “That’s the structure, and without structure you’re going backward. The foundation has already been built for me to jump off like a diving board to excel and do greater.”