Tech’s 2020 Black History Month lecture

Photo courtesy of Abigail Guiterrez-Ray

On Feb. 12, the African American Student Union (AASU) and Institute Diversity, Equity and Inclusion welcomed the 2018 Florida democratic gubernatorial nominee and former mayor of Tallahassee Andrew Gillum to campus. 

Gillum, the keynote speaker of Tech’s Black History Month celebration, addressed campus’s theme of IMPACT: Identifying My Perspective and Acting Consciously Today. 

In discussing acting consciously, Gillum spoke about voter disenfranchisement and the work that has yet to be done in building upon the efforts of the past to achieve equality. 

“Sometimes we think of Black History Month as a stayed part of our history — that it belongs in the archives and the books of history or the arsenals of somebody’s library,” said Gillum.

“But the truth is black history is living — it’s breathing. We’re all building on what came before us. Each rung is supposed to go higher and higher.”

 Third-year CS Nikhil Deo further reflected on this growing dynamic between then and now.

 “I think it’s really easy to segregate the past from the present. It’s easy to say MLK [Martin Luther King Jr.] did all of this or Rosa Parks did all of this, whereas now you have to focus on this and that.”

Gillum explained that reliving through the past, a bridge can be built to connect to the present and even to the future.

“[My family] told me that it was my responsibility to walk through every single door the Civil Rights Movement had opened before me, and, more importantly, that when I got through those doors, it was my job to kick open some doors… so that some other folks might be able to enter.”

Gillum emphasized civic engagement, especially voting, as a path through which more can enter through those doors of the Civil Rights Movement. 

“Part of the living legacy of Black History Month and the sacrifice that was made before us is the fact that we can’t allow for the 1965 Voting Rights Act to just go by the wayside,” said Gillum. “It impacts our democracy, it determines who gets to be counted, who gets to be seen, who gets to be recognized, who gets to be included, whose concerns get to be addressed.”

As part of embodying the living legacy of Black History Month, Gillum challenged individuals to breathe that life into the past themselves.

“This Black History Month, we have to resurrect those images and those sacrifices from the past.” 

Fourth-year EE Andrew Loftus shared his excitement on working to resurrect those images not just for himself, but for the entire Tech community around him as well. 

“I think right now you have so much competitiveness and discord in the political sphere right now… and I was just really thinking about how [Gillum] was talking about just making sure that you’re always empowering others to create the change that you personally want to create. Instead of just focusing on how you can engage yourself, always try to open up doors for others.

 “I don’t know what I want to do professionally yet or if I would ever want to get into politics,” Loftus continued. “But I think that image of trying to bring power to people as you are given more opportunities personally — it’s a really beautiful way to look at creating a community out of political engagement.”

First-year CE Skylar Casanova further weighed in on the lecture’s emphasis of political engagement. 

“It has me thinking a lot about my perspective,” Casanova said. “And I also feel a lot more aware of issues that maybe I didn’t get a lot of light shed on in my life.

 “I have a lot of strong feelings about voter oppression now and am definitely getting more interested in researching that and advocating for registration and getting people more informed.”

The talk left Deo with similar sentiments regarding how individuals can not only become involved themselves, but can also encourage others to do the same. 

“I think the big message that I really take away from this — and am still thinking about — is the idea that we’re building upon the past. And it’s important to bring in the past into what we’re doing now.

“I think that’s something I’m going to keep pondering moving forward when it comes to encouraging people to vote or encouraging people to be active,” they continued. “Not just talking about what’s happening right now but talking about the future impact and what’s led to it up till now.”