Vienna, W.Va.—Ohio Valley University’s Black Student Union planned a variety of informative activities during the month of February, nationally recognized as Black History Month. Presentations during chapel provided historical context for the event, recognizing the central role of Black Americans in U.S. history and celebrating their many achievements.
“A Walk in Time,” a student-led presentation by Dolan “Shaun” Malepa and Keith Parkman, OVU Black Student Union President and Vice-President respectively, highlighted the history of the people of Africa and moved through the stories of oppression, slavery and civil rights issues. “Today, our country still struggles with prejudice,” noted Black Student Union Secretary, Evette Booker. “It is vitally important that we continue to encourage our community to ask questions out of love and to answer questions in love.”
Dr. Stephen Opoku-Duah, OVU Associate Professor of Chemistry & Water Sciences, shared his experience growing up in Ghana, a country located in the sub-region of West Africa. “In the context of Black History Month, I felt it was important for our students to know that faith in God, education, determination, and hard work are no mean factors for success. I don’t care about one’s poor beginnings and limited opportunities.”
Without question, Dr. Opoku-Duah speaks from experience. He referred to his rise from a tiny village in West Africa to science professor in the USA as his “improbable career.” From the age of 6 or 7, he began his morning at 5:30, walked 2-3 miles to the riverside, carried a bucket of water home, had a biting cold bath (sometimes without soap or body cream), hurriedly ate his protein-free corn porridge, and then virtually ran to school. Sometimes there was no breakfast because his grandmother had no food. The village elementary/middle school, established by Christian missionaries, was strict and highly regimented. Students who arrived late were severely punished, and he carries scars on his back today from cane lashes.
Consideration for secondary school required the purchase of public, written examinations. His teacher paid for these as well as the examination fees and passport-size photographs, together worth no more than $1.00. Why? His mother had six other children and the family struggled to survive on less than $3.00 a day. His father, he said, had many wives and children, and “couldn’t care less.” Even though his mother had no formal education herself, she remained focused on her son’s and emphasized church, faith in God, education, and family. “I have not, and will never,” Dr. Opoku-Duah asserted, “depart from these values.”
Additional information relevant to the event was provided by Nathan Greene, preacher at the Barlow-Vincent Church of Christ. “Unknown to many,” Greene shared, “the story of Black History Month actually began with West Virginia historian Carter Woodsen who initiated the observance of Negro History Week in 1915.” In his presentation, Greene included stories about Booker T. Washington, noting his significant contributions to educational opportunities for Black students as well as Washington’s personal journey: “Born a slave and receiving no education in his youth, he still became America’s leading Black educator at the start of the 20th century.”
Including an element of entertainment in the month-long celebration, the OVU Black Student Union provided 40 tickets on a first-come first-served basis to OVU students to see the movie, Black Panther. An online description of the movie provides this overview of the plot:
Black Panther follows T'Challa who, after the events of Captain America: Civil War, returns home to the isolated, technologically advanced African nation of Wakanda to take his place as King. However, when an old enemy reappears on the radar, T'Challa's mettle as King and Black Panther is tested when he is drawn into a conflict that puts the entire fate of Wakanda and the world at risk.” (www.bing.com)
All in all, OVU’s celebration of Black History Month provided all students with a more comprehensive view of the Black experience in America and strengthened an already accepting and open atmosphere to people from all races, nationalities, and cultural backgrounds which is enjoyed on this campus.
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Chartered in 1958, Ohio Valley University is a faith-based, residential, liberal arts college founded by members of the Church of Christ. Students of all faiths are accepted and encouraged to apply. The university offers a variety of baccalaureate and master’s degrees to students from 26 states and 25 nations. To learn more visit www.ovu.edu.