Black History Month Opening Ceremony Inspires, Challenges

Sociology professor Brian Foster delivered keynote address on resilience of black culture

The UM Gospel Choir performs furing the university’s Black History Month opening ceremony Feb. 1 in Fulton Chapel. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi’s opening ceremony for Black History Month included several speakers, riveting performances by the UM Gospel Choir and the presentation of the 2018 Lift Every Voice Awards.

The Thursday (Feb. 1) celebration in Fulton Chapel featured key messages about the university’s progress in fostering a welcoming and inclusive environment, as well as the need to continue the focus and commitment to diversity.

Brian Foster, UM assistant professor of Southern studies and sociology, delivered the keynote address on “Some Things Never Change, and I’m Glad About It.” Foster was introduced by Nekkita Beans, president of the university’s Black Student Union.

“There’s beauty in the shared and timeless culture of black folks – the ways that contemporary musicians, singers and rappers sample music from the ’80s, ’70s and ’50s,” Foster said. “There are things that my parents said to me that their parents said to them that are recognizable by black folks from Mississippi to Miami to Chicago to Philadelphia.”

Foster called upon the audience – especially black students in attendance – to remember that “the challenges that have seemingly always confronted black American livelihood are no match for our will to endure, create and overcome.”

“Black folks have always been a people of seekers, makers and doers,” he said. “That is the legacy that we have blazed through this campus, state and nation, and I want black UM students to know it is up to them to keep that legacy bright.”

The program began with a welcome from Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter.

Southern studies and sociology professor Brian Foster delivers the keynote address for the UM Black History Month opening ceremony. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

“Black History Month is important throughout the nation, but perhaps especially important at the University of Mississippi,” Vitter said. “We have a unique responsibility to learn from our history. We have taken many positive steps to recognize our past, embrace progressive attitudes and support inclusion and diversity.

“While Black History month is only one month long, it is my sincere hope that all members of our community will keep the values of diversity and inclusion at the forefront throughout the year.”

Shawnboda Mead, director of the Center for Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement, extended greetings before presentation of a historical perspective on the importance of this monthlong celebration by Terrence Johnson, president of the Men of Excellence, a student group for African-American males.

Donald Cole, assistant provost and professor of mathematics, presented the “Lift Every Voice” awards, created by the UM Black Faculty and Staff Organization to recognize individuals, groups or entities that have contributed to the betterment of human relationships on campus. Emphasis is given to the areas of diversity, multiculturalism and inclusion.

Recipients of this year’s awards were Charles Hussey, associate dean for research and graduate education in the College of Liberal Arts and professor of chemistry and biochemistry; Jan Murray, associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and professor of art and art history; James Thomas, assistant professor of sociology and anthropology; and the School of Law Diversity Committee.

For a full list of Black History Month sponsors and calendar of events, visit