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Black History Month is more than a nation’s history

Recognizing excellence at CU  Denver

Black History Month gives people time to reflect on a nation’s past and remember the influential African-American figures who have shaped the world into what it is today. While there have been many achievements within the African-American community, such as electing a Black president into office, it’s equally important to recognize people in local communities who are working to create a better society for the future.

Photo credit: Bobby Jones• CU Denver Sentry

“CU Denver works to honor diverse experiences and perspectives for students to create a welcoming and respectful learning environment in order to foster a culture of inclusion,” Hassan Mustefa, President of the Black Student Services, said. With the establishment of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and statistics to back claims of inclusion up, there are some students who still don’t feel CU is living up to its values. “CU Denver is one of the most diverse campuses, or is known to be, but every day I go to class and I’m the only black student in there,” Mustefa said. “CU Denver might be diverse, but if you look at the people who are in higher positions of power or authority, you don’t see the diversity.” Recent statistics in the US Department of Labor states that, “Since 1992, there has been an increase by 10 percent of African-Americans who have a bachelor’s degree or higher.” And according to the National Center for Education statistics, “African-American students rose from 10 percent to 15 percent since 1976.” So why is diversity in higher up positions so rare? While it’s safe to say that African-Americans have made educational strides, it’s also important to note why the statistic, “14 African-American CEOs of Fortune 500 companies between the years 1999 and 2010,” reveals inequality.

There is an everyday struggle that many people don’t seem to notice or understand about those who live in the world as a minority. The African-American community, is a group of people who have been traditionally marginalized in the US for years. But students like Hassan are working to bring African-American representation where it matters.

For Hassan, it’s all about moving forward and keeping a positive mindset to try and make a change. “This outreach program we’re starting here at B.S.S. will allow me to go out to high schools and show African-American students they can get to college,” Hassan said. “They might think they can, but if they don’t see it they’ll never take the chance.” While CU Denver might keep a track record for being a diverse campus, including African-Americans in conversations at the table—and Hassan is working to make sure his voice gets heard.

Like Hassan, there are other people in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion who are working to leave their imprint at CU Denver to make way for a brighter future. For Omar Montgomery, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion is a center where students  come for guidance. Montgomery is using his experiences to help shape the way he runs the center. “When I look at Black Student Services: one, there is an educational aspect of this center of making people aware of the contributions of African-Americans, and two, providing services for those students who feel like they can’t get the full college experience,” he said.

Photo courtesy of Hassan Mustefa

Influential figures like Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and Nelson Mandela are all people who have left behind a legacy for future generations to follow. Organizations like Black Student Services are embracing the struggles and fights these figures have endured to gain the freedom and opportunities available to those in the African American Community. As far as Omar Montgomery’s legacy here at CU, he aims to make sure students aren’t the lone voice as well as making sure they are given the opportunities to move forward for a better life.

This country continues to grow as a melting pot of ethnicities and races, and it’s how we, as a country, go about addressing that intersectionality of diversity that matters. “Having the representation of African-Americans on campus allows us to work together to showcase the beauty of being Black in such a controversial country,” Betty Shiferaw, Treasurer of the African Student Union, said.   “As minorities, it is our responsibility to support one another and embrace our diverse cultures to those throughout the Auraria campus. As we have done in previous years, we will continue to educate, provide value, and celebrate the many reasons that makes us different.”

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