Happy Black History Month, Gators! My name is Vanessa W. Toussaint and I am a third year Microbiology and Cell Science major with a Health Disparities minor, on the pre-medical track here at the University of Florida. I also serve on the Black Student Union Black History Month 2020-2021 Executive Board as the executive editor.

Black History Month at the University of Florida is full of celebration and events. The theme for this year is “Free-ish,” and the focus for this month is to recognize the impacts of our ancestors and reflect on how far the Black community has come despite the lingering chains of oppression and institutionalized racism. It is important for the Black community, especially for Black students here at UF, to remember that despite the challenges we face, still…like dust…WE RISE!

February 12: Loverz N’ Friendz Event co-sponsored with the UF chapter of Progressive Black Men.

This year, we have had events in-person (following all UF COVID safety guidelines) and on Zoom so that everyone can participate in the festivities. Some of my favorite events so far were Redefining Black History, a Zoom event cosponsored by the UF NAACP chapter, where we acknowledged our struggles and discussed how we are striving for our dreams; Straight Outta Zoom, a virtual hip-hop fitness class hosted by Norr Hylton; and the BHM Opening Ceremony, where UF students commemorated the beginning of Black History Month at Turlington Plaza and had the chance to get some free BSU swag.

Here is what UF alumnus Samuel Nelzy had to say about BHM:
What does “Free-ish” mean to you?
“Free-ish, to me, means that we have made some great strides toward living a free and fair life compared to the past. However, as we’ve progressed, so have those who wish to remain in control. Police brutality, mass incarceration, discrimination, and more are examples of how institutions contain us in this ‘Free World.’”
What does BHM mean to you?
“Black History Month is a month where we are able to focus on the many achievements made by Black people. These achievements should be celebrated every day and not directed toward a single month, but this month is very special and is used to highlight the sacrifices made by those before us.”
How did you feel being a Black student at UF?
“Being a Black student at UF made me feel as though I could accomplish anything. I made it to a prestigious school, [now] #6 in the nation, and I know that many Black individuals before me fought to allow more students like me come through.”

There are several great locations on UF’s campus where students can learn more about Black history and culture. The first one is the Black Enrichment Center, located in the Reitz Union, which provides students with an array of programs and resources. The second one is the Institute of Black Culture, located on 1510 W. University Ave. The IBC connects students with faculty and staff to enhance their historical knowledge and academic pursuits. Lastly, UF’s newest addition, the National Pan-Hellenic Council Garden, is a physical tribute to the Divine Nine and their organizational history on campus. The space serves to unite and educate students about the history of these diverse chapters and is where students and alumni who are members of the NPHC can gather, hold special events, take pride in their organizations and celebrate their heritage. The NPHC Garden is located on the North Lawn near Marston Science Library.

February 1: Black History Month Opening Ceremony at Turlington Plaza. Members of E-Board and BHM Committee

I am so proud of the 2020-2021 BHM Executive Board. I am especially thankful to the 2020-2021 BHM director, Ama Fosu, for her hard work and dedication. We still have several events coming up; all events and Zoom links can be found on the BHM Instagram page @ufbhm and at @uf_bsu. Enjoy the rest of your semester!