Dyson tells Black History Month crowd ‘we have to be truth-tellers’


Michael Eric Dyson ushered in Pitt’s K. Leroy Irvis Black History Month Program events with honest, funny and critical commentary on the state of U.S politics at the August Wilson African American Cultural Center on Feb. 3.

Dyson, a professor of sociology at Georgetown University, author, radio host, orator, preacher and more, gave a presentation to a nearly full audience that was part political rant, part sociological symposium and part standup comedy. The School of Medicine Office of Diversity and Inclusion invited the Pitt community to attend the presentation, part of the center’s TRUTHsayer series

He covered a variety of topics, from Thomas Jefferson owning slaves to the struggles African American members of the LGBTQIA+ community face in their families. 

Dyson even crooned a few “old school” R&B songs by Marvin Gaye, Teddy Pendergrass, Sam Cooke and Luther Vandross. The scholar, also known for his research on African-American public figures such as Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Tupac Shakur, also dabbled in a few hip-hop songs from the Notorious BIG and Eric B.

The music from these artists is steeped in timeless cultural struggles for African Americans, including poverty, racism, participation in politics, police brutality and relationship woes.

He called for the audience to not forget their history, including personal struggles, whether they be good or bad. This self-reflection is necessary for personal and societal progression. 

“We have to be truth-tellers, my brothers and sisters,” Dyson said. “And in telling that truth, we have to be self-critical in the process, willing to share what we have done right, but also willing to tell the truth about how we messed up. That's hard to do.”

This presentation matches the theme for Black History Month this year — “African Americans and the Vote.” 

The year 2020 marks celebrations of some major historical moments in political history, including the 100th anniversary of the culmination of the women’s suffrage movement and 115th anniversary of the 15th Amendment, which prohibits federal and state governments from denying a citizen a right to vote based on race, color or previous enslavement, according to the Association for the Study of African American Life and History.

“The theme speaks, therefore, to the ongoing struggle on the part of both black men and black women for the right to vote,” the association said on its website. “This theme has a rich and long history, which begins at the turn of the 19th century, i.e., in the era of the Early Republic, with the states’ passage of laws that democratized the vote for white men while disenfranchising free black men.”

Black to the Future

Black To The Future: An Arts Festival of Art, Social Justice, and Dreaming, hosted by Chancellor Patrick Gallagher, will end Pitt’s Black History Month observances with several events highlighting black activism through art:

Feb. 26:

Noon — Opening lecture by Alicia Wormsley, Connolly Ballroom, Alumni Hall

5 p.m. — Equipoise welcome reception featuring a poetry recitation of “Neckbone” by Avery R. Young, and a performance of “Tubman” by Young and his band, de deacon board. Connolly Ballroom, Alumni Hall

Feb. 27

6:30 p.m. — Poets Tongo Eisen-Martin, Simone White and Jaamil Olawale Kosoko will read work written in response to the 2018 National Book Award winner Justin Phillip Reed’s upcoming poem collection “The Malevolent Volume.” Reed also will read at the event. Henry Heymann Theatre, Foster Memorial

Feb. 28

4:30-8 p.m. — Black to the Future reception, 7th Floor Auditorium, Alumni Hall, with:

  • Performances by Pittsburgh rapper and activist Jasiri X; Pitt Jazz Studies Director Nicole Mitchell; opera performer Kay Henderson; and spoken word artist Oronde Sharif at 6 p.m.

  • Panel discussion with Jasiri X as the moderator and Richard Hylton, Dietrich School diversity postdoctoral fellow, Jasmine Greene, and Lauren Russell, assistant director of the Center for African American Poetry & Poetics, 7-8 p.m.

Feb. 29

1 p.m. — Dance workshop by KanKouran West African Dance Company, Alloy Studios, 5530 Penn Ave., Friendship

6 p.m. —KanKouran West African Dance Company performance: Circle of Praise, featuring celebration dances from the African Diaspora. Kelly Strayhorn Theater, 5941 Penn Ave., East Liberty

8:30 p.m. — (T)rap Music & Poetry, Simone White will host a poetry party with poets Tongo Eisen-Martin and Jaamil Olawale Kosoko, Alloy Studios, 5530 Penn Ave. 

K. Leroy Irvis Black History Month events

In line with the theme, several Pitt departments also will host Black History Month events related to political engagement. Here are the other events listed on the Office of Diversity and Inclusion’s website:

Feb. 3-29: African American Poetry exhibit, Hillman Library  

Feb. 7: Thinking Race, Gender, and Sexuality Together: Comparative Approaches, part of the Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies programs. 1-3 p.m., 501 Cathedral of Learning

Feb. 10: Doctors, Termites, and Princesses: Landscapes of Health and Medicine in East Africa, presented by Neil Kodesh, history professor, University of Wisconsin–Madison, will present a lecture. 4:30-6:30 p.m., 3703 Posvar Hall

Feb. 11:

5:30-7:30 p.m. — African Americans and the Vote, panel discussion hosted by the University Library System and the Homewood Community Engagement Center, 622 N. Homewood Ave. 

1 p.m. — White Privilege in Information, an examination and discussion about equity, diversity and inclusion and how they are represented in information systems. Hillman Library, Amy Knapp Room, G74, 

Feb. 12:

Noon-3 p.m. — “Which Way for Social Work on Sexual and Gender Minority Issues?” by James I. Martin, director of the master of social work program at New York University. Part of the School of Social Work Speaker Series. 2017 Cathedral of Learning

5:30-7 p.m. — Reach for the Stars presented by the Department of Medicine Office of Diversity and Inclusion, a dinner series every other month for minority faculty to network with University leaders. Mark Gladwin, chair of the Department of Medicine, is the guest. University Club, Conference Room A

Feb. 13:

12:30-2 p.m. — “De Ting About Blackness (A Meditation).” Louis M. Maraj, assistant professor of English who specializes in black rhetoric and public writing, will host a colloquium. Humanities Center, 602 Cathedral of Learning, 

7 p.m. — Keith Wilson with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Wilson, the 2020 Center for African American Poetry and Poetics–City of Asylum Dream Space Resident, will perform with members of the Pittsburgh Symphony. Alphabet City, 40 W. North Ave., North Side

Feb. 14: Afro-Latinx Portraiture: The Case of Arturo Schomburg. Vanessa Valdés, director of the Black Studies Program and associate professor of Spanish and Portuguese at the City College of New York–CUNY, will give a public talk about Schomburg’s engagement with the vibrant, ethnically diverse, and racially charged world of early 20th-century New York City. Schomburg was a central figure in early 20th-century efforts to recover evidence of global black excellence. 12:15-1:30 p.m., 4130 Posvar Hall

Feb. 15: Steel City Step Show. Pitt’s National Pan-Hellenic Council will host its 23 annual step show featuring the traditional black, percussive dance style. Tickets are $15, $10 at the door. 5-9 p.m., Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum auditorium

Feb. 18: Meet the NPHC Chapters, who will provide information about their organizations and service and social opportunities. 6-9 p.m., O'Hara Student Center

Feb. 19:

5:30 p.m. — Homewood CEC Community Dinner and Conversation, 622 N. Homewood Ave.

5-6:30 p.m. — #BLM, Black Feminism, and the New Afrocentrism, talk by Louis Maraj, assistant professor of English. 501 Cathedral of Learning 

Feb. 21: “Moonlight” screening, presented by Pitt Program Council and the Black Action Society. Free. 8:30-10:30 p.m., William Pitt Union, Assembly Room

Feb. 25: 

Noon — “Race, Justice, and Activism in Literacy Instruction” book release with Valerie Kinloch, dean of the School of Education. 4303 Posvar Hall

6-7 p.m. — Dr. Charles Champion and the Evolution of African American Independent. Scaife Hall, fourth floor

Feb. 26: GSPIA's Roscoe Robinson Memorial Lecture Series presents Marita Garrett, mayor of Wilkinsburg, who will give a talk about empowering community residents to improve their neighborhoods and her transition from borough council to mayor. Noon-1:30 p.m., 3911 Posvar Hall

Feb. 27: Postcolonial Socialisms in Africa. This event will include a live interview Priya Lal, an associate professor of History at Boston College as a part of the African Studies’ Socialism Past, Present and Future Pop-Up Course. 4-5:30 p.m., 211 David Lawrence Hall

Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at dharrell@pitt.edu or 412-383-9905.


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