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Bloomington kicks off Black History Month at City Hall

Every seat of Bloomington City Hall Council Chambers was filled with families, educators, students and other members of the community in a long-anticipated kick-off to Black History month on Thursday.

"This is like a family reunion," said Nichelle Whitney, a member of the Black History Month planning committee for the City of Bloomington. "People look forward to the celebration." 

The community’s pride was visible as the crowd stood and sang the Black National Anthem toward the start of the free kick-off event.

Mayor John Hamilton, Eric Love, director of staff diversity and inclusion at the University of Notre Dame and keynote speaker, musicians and government officials all talked about this year’s theme, “From Protest to Progress: Unmasking the Movement,” to a crowd of more than 130 people. 

“Let’s recall that history is dynamic,” Hamilton said in his speech. “We have an obligation to interrogate our history.”

The City of Bloomington organizes a series of events each February to provide a space for the black community to celebrate its culture, said Black History Month Committee Chair Maqube Reese. 

Whitney said this is a pivotal time for this theme, given recent NFL protests and the Black Lives Matter movement. 

One reason Love was chosen as the keynote speaker was for his history of progressive, nonviolent protests. 

Love formerly served as the director of diversity and education at IU. Committee member Treon McClendon said when he was an undergraduate at IU, he remembers Love as a supporter of underrepresented students.

"He was a shoulder to lean on," McClendon said. 

The Black History Month Committee started planning events in September 2017. 

After the Feb. 1 kick-off, the City of Bloomington will have a rewards reception at Fairview Elementary School on Feb. 8 to recognize winners of the 2018 Black History Month Essay Competition.

This will be followed by a discussion on the state of the black community at City Hall Council Chambers on Feb. 13.

Bloomington’s 14th Annual Black History Month Gala and Silent Auction will be Feb. 24 at the Hilton Garden Inn. 

The Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center and the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs have also released a month-long slate of events to honor diversity which can be found online along with Bloomington’s events.

"It's important to do these events so we can make black people visible in the community," Reese said. 

In Mayor Hamilton's speech at the kick-off, he reminded the audience of the importance of celebrating Black History Month year-round, and to use the month of February to reflect. 

Many of the people at the celebration attend Bloomington's Black History Month events every year. 

Roberta Radovich, a Bloomington resident, said she watches documentaries on WTIU and attends as many events as she can in the city and on IU's campus in February. 

"I think Bloomington represents one of the communities in the state of Indiana that's really cognizant of celebrating culture," Radovich said. "Honoring our sameness while celebrating our differences."

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