Today at Berkeley Lab

Black History Month Celebration Features Poetry, Dance, Song, and Science

— By Theresa Duque

The Lab’s African American Employee Resource Group (AAERG) held its first annual Black History Month Celebration on Tuesday, Feb. 27.

The noon event drew a diverse crowd – with attendees from the scientific and computing areas and Operations – filling the Building 50 auditorium to capacity.

Mary Sidney, senior adviser to the Energy Technologies Area and AAERG co-founder, kicked off the event with a brief overview of the origins of Black History Month, an annual celebration that first took place at Kent State University in 1970. Since 1976, every U.S. president has designated February as Black History Month.

Themes of hope and resilience marked the inaugural event, which included dancing by Ravyn Gisturb and MiQuael Wiggins (pictured above); a reading of Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise” by AAERG co-founders Colette Flood, Jackie Scoggins, and LaTonja Wright; a stirring rendition of James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” also known as the “Black National Anthem,” performed by Candace Johnson, a visiting lecturer at UC Berkeley; and a keynote speech by Hakeem Oluseyi, an astrophysicist and space science education manager at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and professor of physics and space sciences at the Florida Institute of Technology.

During his talk, Oluseyi (left) – who was also an E.O. Lawrence astrophysics fellow at Berkeley Lab from 2001 to 2004 – paid tribute to the African American physicists who came before him, including Carl Rouse, Art Walker, and George Carruthers, before delving into his own personal history as an African American astrophysicist who first discovered his love for science while growing up in rough neighborhoods of the American South.

Several staffers who attended the event were impressed with the diverse turnout, and are looking forward to the next AAERG Black History Month Celebration. “I’m glad that we had a really nice diversity of people attending the event,” said James Lee, AAERG co-founder and IT Team Lead in Computing Sciences. “What we achieved is a diverse, full house, which is nice because part of the point of all this is not to just create inclusion for the African American community, but also to welcome other people.”

Some, like Lida Gifford, lead communications coordinator in the Biosciences Area, were pleasantly surprised by the celebration’s range of performances in addition to Oluseyi’s talk. “It was exciting to see a multifaceted program featuring a singer, dancers, poetry, and science,” said Gifford. “I also value that Prof. Oluseyi had been at the Lab before and worked with the scientists here. I hope that he has as an opportunity to come back and speak with us again.”

And an anonymous IT staffer agreed, adding, “I thought that Prof. Oluseyi had a really compelling story, and he was an entertaining speaker. He offered a different perspective, one that I’m assuming a lot of scientists here don’t have. It’s good to hear from a scientist who comes from a background that’s different from most scientists.”

View additional photos of the event here.