By: Tiffany Odom
OXFORD, Miss. –In honor of Black History Month, the Constance Slaughter-Harvey chapter of the Black Law Student Association (BLSA) at the University of Mississippi School of Law sponsored an assortment of programs held throughout the month of February. The purpose of the events was to educate students, faculty and staff about the role that African Americans have played in the history of the nation.
As an initiative passed down by the National BLSA, the UM chapter began the month with a day for HIV testing in attempt to combat an increasing problem affecting many Mississippians. In 2011, Mississippi ranked number seven nationally in HIV case rates. The following year, the state reported 547 newly reported HIV infections, according to the Mississippi State Department of Health.
“We sponsored the HIV testing to bring awareness to the epidemic not only affecting African Americans but the state of Mississippi at an alarming rate,” said Heather Horn, BLSA secretary.
BLSA also partnered with Mississippi Blood Services to host a blood drive and brought in Jennifer Stollman, Ph. D., academic director at the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation, who spoke about judicial equity, race and the law to banish racial myths. The forum was titled “Active Bystander.”
“We put a lot of time and effort into planning and executing these events as an organization,” said Darryl Wilson, BLSA president, “We have learned that Black History Month is not only an African American celebration, but a celebration for all ethnic groups.”
UM law students and faculty weighed in with praise on the month-long celebration and expressed what it means to them individually.“The civil rights movement played an integral part in making sure that, while equality was an important focus, the movement was also about freedom and liberty to pursue your own goals without any hindrance from others just for the way you look or how you were born,” said Cory Ferraez, president of OUTlaw, an LGBT student law organization. “Black History Month is a reflection of opportunities that all Americans have, and we should celebrate that.”
With BLSA’s messages meant to honor the accomplishments of black Americans throughout history, Sandra Cox-McCarty, associate dean for administration and diversity affairs, thinks there is a lot to learn from that.
“Black History Month is also about American history. Every culture should be included,” said Cox-McCarty, “Once we learn about each others culture, we can appreciate each other and understand that we are all different.”
The celebration concluded with a two-part expungement forum and legal clinic on Feb. 22 and the BLSA annual Talent Show on Feb. 25. BLSA hosted the expungement clinic with the Magnolia Bar Association, the Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project and the School of Law’s Pro Bono Initiative to educate anyone interested in erasing a criminal record on the expungement process.
“The important thing that I have gotten, from being affiliated with the organization, is a continuing affirmation that African-American students and other minority students, when given an opportunity, can be successful and effective leaders who are an important part of this country’s future,” said Larry Pittman, BLSA faculty advisor.