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SIUC celebrating Black History Month in February with guest speakers, more

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Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Black History Month commemoration in February will feature a wide variety of events, including special guest speakers and an impactful trip for students. This year’s theme is “Power of Black Resilience,” and most events are free and open to the public.

“We’re looking forward to celebrating Black History Month,” said Renada Greer, executive director of the Student Multicultural Resource Center and TRiO Programs. “It provides an opportunity to share Black culture and commemorate the accomplishments, achievements and contributions of African Americans. We partnered with students, faculty, staff members and the community to develop an engaging experience for the month.”

Award-winning speaker and music at kickoff

Damon Williams

The month begins in grand style with a kickoff at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 1 at the Student Center Auditorium.

Damon Williams, a scholar, educator, best-selling author and leadership expert, will present the keynote address. A recipient of the University of Michigan Bicentennial Award of Leadership and the Western Reserve Academy Waring Prize, Williams has served as senior vice president and chief education officer while managing the social impact portfolio for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. He launched The Inclusive Excellence Model in American Higher Education, based on his research. He strives to foster diversity, equity, inclusion and leadership development while bridging the gap between education and the corporate, government and nonprofit communities.

Special musical entertainment will be by Lee England Jr., an SIU alumnus known as “the Michael Jordan of the violin.” Affiliated through the years with musicians including Sean “Diddy” Combs and Quincy Jones, England is classically trained but performs a blend of musical styles, including rhythm and blues, hip-hop and soul on the violin, viola, cello, bass, guitar, drums and piano, and he sings as well. He has performed halftime shows in dozens of NBA arenas and composed music for and starred in an NFL Super Bowl LXVII commercial. He also led violin vigils for Elijah McClain, a Black massage therapist from Colorado who died after a 2019 encounter with police.

Everyone is welcome at the kickoff. The doors open at 5 p.m.

Join the conversation

Jett Hawkins was just 4 years old when he was sent home from preschool because of his hairstyle, told that his braids, then his ponytail were in violation of the dress code policy at his Chicago school.

His mother, Ida Nelson, went to work increasing awareness about the impact of stigmatizing children’s hair and how that could affect their educational development. The result was the passage of the Jett Hawkins Law in 2021, which prohibits schools from having policies that discriminate against hairstyles historically associated with race, ethnicity or hair texture.

Join a “Conversation with Ida Nelson: Jett Hawkins” at 4 p.m. Feb. 9 to learn more about Jett Hawkins and Ida Nelson, and the law that protects hairstyles, including braids, locks and twists. Nelson will share about the journey she and Jett have embarked on and their ongoing efforts to create positive changes.

She is a Peyton Parent Fellow, interviewing candidates for political office to assure their views align with youths, educators and families, and working as a Chicago Public Schools Parent Leadership Council member.

More activities planned

Among the other highlights of SIU’s 2023 Black History Month are:

  • Black Health and Wellness Event – Feb. 11 at noon, at the Trap Training facility, Carbondale’s first Black-owned gym, located on the strip near SIU, Kampus Kuts and The Juice Cap. Owner Jonathan Battles will speak about the importance of health and wellness and how you build resilience through alignment of a strong body and mind. He will also lead participants in a 20-minute workout. The event is free and open to all, but pre-registration is required at
  • The Woman King” movie – Feb. 16 at 5 p.m., Student Center Auditorium. Set in the 1820s, the film tells the story of the Agojie, an all-female military regiment within the army of the African kingdom of Dahomey. Viola Davis is Nanisca, a general who trains the new generation of recruits to fight rival tribes threatening their kingdom and way of life in this 2022 Sony release.
  • The National Civil Rights Museum Experience – a Feb. 17 trip for SIU students to the museums and historic buildings of Memphis, Tennessee, giving them the opportunity to learn more about the civil rights movement in the United States from the 17th century to today. They will enjoy films, hundreds of artifacts and hearing from experts about the beginning for the resistance to slavery, the Civil War and Reconstruction, the rise of Jim Crow, and other events that inspired people all over the world to stand up for equality. Students can sign up for the trip beginning Feb. 1, and limited seating is available on a first-come, first-served basis.
  • A variety of other events and activities including roundtable discussions, movies, a fashion show and much more.

Learn more

For the complete schedule of events and additional information about numerous activities planned in February, visit the Black History Month webpage. Sponsors include the Black Resource Center, a unit of the Student Multicultural Resource Center, along with the office of the Vice Chancellor for Anti-Racism, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. 

For information, call (618) 453-1702 or email

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