NAU Celebrates Black History Month

Our NAU faculty and staff share their thoughts on Black History Month, their musical influences, who they would have dinner with and their advice for future generations

Northern Arizona University
12 min readFeb 2, 2024

Ishmael Munene | College of Education

What does Black History Month mean to you?

Black people are scattered all over. Our regional home is Africa. We have some in the Americas, others in Europe, and others in the Caribbean. For me — this is a time for all people of African heritage to reflect on their journey, their achievement and trials and challenges.

What musical figures did you grow up listening to?

I grew up in Africa.

We had one radio station because it was government-owned but we had a series of programs. One would play African music, top hits from the United States and hits from Europe. We had a reggae show on Saturday where I would listen to music from the Caribbean and then we also had a Calypso show.

I also listened to the music from the Caribbean, which would be calypso and reggae. You had people like Bob Marley and Sparrow.

  • From the America’s, we would listen to Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5’s, Diana Ross, Tina Turner.
  • From Europe, we had groups like Eurythmics, UB40.
  • Coming back home to Kenya — I would listen to a lot of local music in Swahili and Congolese music, Lingala from Congo.

My dad also had a big turntable stereo and we would listen to The Beatles.

What are you listening to currently?

Now that I’m older, I tend to go back and listen to my music in my mother tongue — Kikuyu, African music.

When I want to listen to contemporary Western music, it’s generally the oldies. 95. 5, which is a local station is my favorite. When I go to Phoenix, it’s 103.4.

Who are some figures in black history who inspire you?

Walter Rodney was a Guyanese African liberation scholar. He came up with a thesis of how slavery, the whole dislocation of millions of black people, to the Caribbean, to Europe, to the Americans as slaves, devastated Africa economically.

To me, he was the first person to make a case for reparation. If Europe underdeveloped Africa, Europe was controlling slavery, and millions, one third of African population was dislocated, then he began the call for reparation.

I’m a voluntary immigrant. I have choices — I can go anywhere. I can go back to Africa. I have a choice.

But many do not have. So that’s why Walter Rodney wrote the book.

To me, I contrast him with people like Marcus Garvey, another person I like, but Marcus Garvey had a return to Africa movement.

I admired him but I didn’t think his idea of black people only prospering in Africa was a realistic move.

I’ll give you a country like Liberia. It’s named from the word liberty. Freed slaves went there.

What happened? They couldn’t speak the local language, they couldn’t fit in the culture.

But because they were highly educated they became the leaders and the local people resisted. So that country of Liberia for a long time has been in political turmoil because you have highly educated descendants of slaves who returned who were in power because they had higher education and then indigenous people who were left, who can speak many languages who are not in power, and that has caused tension.

Marcus Garvey, much as I admire, he talked about black empowerment, but he had a theory that they should just go back to Africa.

Walter Rodney said, wherever you are, you resist, and you improve yourself. You change your thinking just like Bob Marley.

If you could have dinner with a prominent black figure, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

I would like to have dinner with President Obama.

Just for the mere reason he was very successful, how he navigated and became president and had everyone elect him twice.

My wife knows this, President Obama’s father and my dad worked in the same building — the treasury in Kenya.

I would like to know, when he was the president, how he navigated the intricacies of America to be successful politically and how does he feel now that he’s out of office?

What impact did this presidency have on racial relations in the country?

I would like to get that from him.

What’s an important lesson that’s been passed down to you?

I think the lesson that I’ve learned from my important members of my family is that it’s your own work that you will be judged by.

First of all, prove yourself. Work hard. Collaborate and form partnerships with others because you can’t succeed alone.

What do you want the future generation to know?

I would like them to know that the world is becoming smaller and smaller, especially with advancement in technologies. Living in isolation will not help.

Number two, you better develop people skills.

Because the world is smaller, you’re going to live with all racial groups. Develop people skills but at the same time ensure that you promote and retain your dignity as a human being.

Yes, there will be differences in perspectives but when you prove yourself, you’ve developed people skills, and you affirm your dignity — I think you, you can make it.

Crystal Lay | Director, Campus Living

What does Black History Month mean to you personally?

It’s a time to celebrate. It’s a time to acknowledge where we’ve been, where we are, and also how far we have to go.

I think we’re still in the space of it’s a provision of spaces that feel equitable and welcoming and included, but ultimately for me, it’s celebrating the history, the rich history and culture, and a reminder of all the contributions that black folks have made.

What musical figures did you grow up listening to?

Oh my gosh, there are so many! I listened to a lot of hip hop and R&B — Jodeci, Chris Cross, SWV, Prince and Michael Jackson.

What are you listening to currently?

I listen to a lot of music. In undergrad I was a DJ so I listen to everyone from the Chainsmokers, to Ruth B.,to Rihanna, 30 Seconds to Mars, just a variety of music. Alright.

Who are some figures in black history who inspire you?

Writers and poets are mostly who come to mind. I love Gwendolyn Brooks, Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, Toni Morrison. Those folks really speak to me and how they use their words to shift our culture and bring attention to different issues happening in the black community.

If you could have dinner with a prominent black figure, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

The person that comes to mind is Ruby Bridges. She was a six year old who helped integrate a formerly all white school in Louisiana. She had to be escorted to school every day by a federal marshal.

I can’t imagine what she felt like to be so young and have that pressure on her. So that’s the person I would want to talk to.

What’s an important lesson that’s been passed down to you?

My grandma always says, put your faith and trust in the Lord — don’t worry, be confident, believe in God and it will be okay.

What do you want the future generation to know?

I want them to remember their worth and value as human beings.

I want to make sure they’re finding the people that will be in their court and support them and to not let society tell them anything different.

Do you have a favorite soul food?

My favorite soul food is peach cobbler. My grandma makes it — lots of butter, lots of peaches, cinnamon, all the things.

It’s a really easy but tasty dish. Depending on who you get the recipe from, it’s always fun to see what people include.

Destinee King |Coordinator for Black and African American Student Services, NAU Inclusion

What does Black History Month mean to you?

Black History Month is really important to me personally just because it’s one of the identities that I hold. I am African American as well as Diné or Navajo. It’s really important to me because it’s a time where my people are recognized.

Even though Black History Month is not the only time we should be celebrating Black and African American folks — it is a time that naturally we are recognized for the contributions that we have and have created for our country and also the world.

I think it’s really important that people take the time to embrace our culture, embrace us as people, human beings, just like we try to do for everyone who calls earth home.

What musical figures did you grow up listening to?

Music has been a huge part of my family. Growing up I listened to a lot of like what my mom and my grandpa listened to — Patti LaBelle. Whitney Houston, Debra Cox.

But also some newer music as well — early nineties, 2000s, so like Aaliyah, TLC, Destiny’s Child — they’re very influential in my household.

What are you listening to currently?

I listen to a lot of different types of music, but I definitely think that my favorite artists at the moment are SZA or Money Long. I do listen to K pop, so shout out to my K pop stans.

I do love Megan Thee Stallion, Nicki Minaj, people like that.

Who are some figures in Black history who inspire you?

One of them is definitely Shirley Chisholm — the first African American woman to be voted into Congress. She really stood up for making sure that people use their voice to advocate on behalf of themselves.

One of her most famous quotes talks about the folding chair.

If there’s not a seat at the table for you- bring a folding chair.

I think that’s something to definitely live up to because sometimes we do have to fight for what we think is right. She really embodied that, you know, in the things that she did every single day.

If you could have dinner with a prominent black figure, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

My first initial thought was definitely Chadwick Boseman. I loved him as an actor and just learning a little bit more about what he did with his life. He was a big advocate — he received a lot of awards for the projects that he was a part of, not only for acting, but things that he did that were philanthropic in nature as well.

So I would love to be able to have a conversation with him.

What’s an important lesson that’s been passed down to you?

My grandma was a huge advocate on education. I went to college. I got my master’s degree, you know, considering a doctorate because that’s what she told me I needed to strive for.

But also making sure that I’m consistently educating myself — not only in the sense of going to school, but also just learning more about the world, experiencing things in life.

Another thing she used to tell us all the time too is never forget where you come from. Specifically talking about like the land we’re from, our family.

Arizona will always hold a special place in my heart because my indigenous people are from this land, and also knowing where the black side of my family also has come.

What do you want the future generation to know?

I would like the future generation to know that they just need to keep doing what they’re doing.

Keep moving forward, speaking up for themselves, advocating on behalf of themselves and others — because that is the only way that we’re going to make this world a better place.

We want to bring in light and love into our future so just keeping, making sure that we still have that at the forefront of everything that we do.

Do you have a favorite soul food?

Oh my gosh. I love me a good collard greens, especially if they’re cooked correctly and have that just the just aromatic flavor. I just love them so much.

I hope that you all join us for the Black History Month events that we have going on within the Office of Inclusion and also with the NAU community. We’d love for you all to celebrate with us and join us for this good time!

Jermaine Barkley | Health Promotion Office

What does Black History Month mean to you?

Black History Month, for me personally, is a call to action or a reminder really for folks that aren’t black and aren’t of color to take up the work that’s necessary to advance equity and justice for black folks, but also for all kinds of disenfranchised populations.

It’s a chance for reflection on how far we’ve come, the work that’s been necessary to get to this point, but also opportunities to look at history for ideas and motivation to continue doing that difficult work.

What musical figures did you grow up listening to?

My dad made sure we had a pretty diverse musical palette, so we listened to a lot of Motown and Soul growing up. I was an emotional kid, so I listened to a lot of Boyz II Men, New Edition, and Power Ballads, and then a lot of 90s hip hop.

My favorite group growing up was Tribe Called Quest and the Wu Tang Clan.

What are you listening to currently?

I listen to a little bit of everything now — a lot of new R& B music and artists that have come out but I’ve been particularly into Lucky Day.

Who are some figures in Black history who inspire you?

I’ve always looked up to James Baldwin the author and poet the way he was able to communicate not only the black experience, but the black male experience and the human experience and translate that to a really broad audience.

I think really spoke to me. He spoke about that experience in really intimate ways that I think a lot of folks could connect with.

If you could have dinner with a prominent black figure, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

I think I would be interested in meeting Malcolm X.

That was one of my other big heroes growing up. You know, he started so young and turned his life around at such an early age, but also went through a lot of ideological changes.

Throughout his involvement in the civil rights movement he had the foresight and the wherewithal to change his mind on some things and to broaden his perspective and still be really effective.

I’d love to just have an opportunity to ask what that process was like for him and how he was able to mobilize people through that.

What’s an important lesson that’s been passed down to you?

My dad always told me “You can say anything you want to someone as long as you do it with timing and tact.”

That was always a reminder that we have a responsibility to speak up and to express ourselves and to share our opinions, but it also doesn’t absolve us of decorum and respect, and being mindful of other people’s emotions and how they process things.

Talking about some of these issues can be really difficult for folks to digest, so just being nuanced in the way that we talk about it is important, but it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t talk about it either.

What do you want the future generation to know?

If I could tell the future generations anything, it’s that they’re capable of doing change. There’s always a million excuses not to change things or not to do something.

Sometimes problems seem so big that it can feel hard to start- to do anything about it, but we don’t make change unless we start tackling it now, even if we won’t be able to see that change in our lifetimes.

🎶 Celebrate Through Music 🎤



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