Students plan activities for Black History Month open to campus, community 

Coleen Ndedi Ntepe has a goal: to build cultural awareness among those on campus and in the community. As the president of the Black Student Association at Pittsburg State University, she’s planning events for Black History Month that are open to all. 

“I’d like for us to build connections,” said Ndedi Ntepe, a senior from Joplin, Missouri, majoring in French, Spanish, and Psychology. Her parents, also Joplin residents, are from Cameroon in Central Africa. “I’d like for more people to take an interest in Black heritage, because our roots are part of the roots of this nation.” 

Monday, Feb. 5:  

Spoken Word Night @ the U-Club is planned for 6:30 p.m. in the lower level of the Overman Student Center and is free and open to everyone. Those in attendance will be invited to share poems, stories, and songs at the mic, Ndedi Ntepe said. 

The Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage classifies spoken word as a literary art form, sometimes presented as performance poetry set against a musical background with a percussive beat.  

“Because of the early limitations on their communication with one another, the concept of freedom of speech holds a special meaning for Americans of African descent. These Americans place a high value on effective speaking and rhetoric,” the center says.  

Some of the first African American voices to gain the attention of whites were orators who could speak powerfully of the experience of being enslaved, such as Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth.  

Saturday, Feb. 10: 

The 8th Annual MLK Jr. Ball will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. in the Overman Student Center ballrooms and is open to all.  

Ndedi Ntepe said guests will be transported to the world of the Harlem Renaissance and the Roaring ‘20s with a DJ, dancing, and more.  

Attire is formal. 

“This event is about joining together in a social atmosphere to engage with each other and foster diversity,” Ndedi Ntepe said. 

Wednesday, Feb. 21: 

Gospel Explosion is planned for 6 p.m. in the Sharon Kay Dean Recital Hall in McCray Hall, home to the Department of Music. Gospel is historically defined as the combination of spirituals, blues, and the song sermons of the Black preacher. 

Open to everyone at no charge, it will feature Pitt State grad Claude Harris (Accounting, 1997) and will include a message and worship. 

Harris is the CEO and founder of College Coaching Network, created to bring help, guidance, and community to students virtually through college planning and training in career readiness, testing, time management, and many other areas.  

Married for 25 years, he met his wife at Pitt State, where he played basketball and was active in SIFE (Students In Free Enterprise).   

The event also will feature the newly formed Viking Dance and Color Guard from Parsons, created last fall to empower youth and provide scholarship and audition opportunities in the performing arts. 

Monday, Feb. 26:  

Love Your Mane: A Hair Care Event specially designed for college students with curly, natural, and textured hair, is planned for noon in the Overman Student Center ballroom. 

The event will feature demonstrations, product recommendations, raffles, and more. 

Ndedi Ntepe said hair is very important culturally, with ancient African communities fashioning their hair for more than just style — hairstyles signified marital status, age, religion, wealth, and rank in society once upon a time. 

“Hair has deep historical roots and is an expression of who we are,” she said. “It is part of our cultural identity. We are wanting to change the aspect of ‘let’s assimilate’ to remembering where we came from.” 

Historical resources show slave traders shaved the heads of the 12 million African men, women, and children they captured, the first step in a process of erasing their culture and identity.  

As slaves, it was tucked away beneath cloth to cover rough, tangled tresses that grew back, and to shield them from hours in the sun, so they got creative with what they had at their disposal to care for it, relying on bacon grease and butter as a conditioner, cornmeal as dry shampoo, and sheep fleece carding tools as combs. 

Beauty standards of the day were that “good hair” was straighter and European in look, with those who had it chosen for more desirable positions in the house, so slaves often went to dangerous lengths to attempt to straighten it.  

Drawing or writing directions for an escape to freedom was risky or difficult, so slaves used braids to map escape routes. Patterns resembled roads to travel or avoid.  

In 1786, the Tignon Law required Black women to wear a head scarf or head wrap to signify they were members of the slave class, even if they were free. They rebelled by wearing beautiful, colorful fabrics, turning the wraps into empowering fashion statements. During the Civil Rights movement, notable Black activists wore hairstyles that symbolized the enduring fight against racism and forced assimilation. 

Ndedi Ntepe noted that it is difficult in Pittsburg, Kansas, to find hairstylists that specialize in African styles and to find products for Black hair. She is working on an initiative to bring professionals to campus on a regular basis to improve accessibility by Black students. 

“We are even exploring the idea of vending machines with hair care products,” she said.