‘Young, Gifted and Black’ kicks off Black Heritage Month

Young Alumni Trustee Chakena Sims '16 gives the keynote address
Young Alumni Trustee Chakena Sims '16 gives the keynote address "Young, Gifted and Black," the 2017 Black Heritage Month kickoff event.

You won’t find her name in any history book, but Chakena Sims ’16 knows her grandmother made history.

“She worked in a factory for 32 years, in a job that only made the rich richer,” Sims told students, faculty and staff Wednesday at the Black Heritage Month kickoff event, “Young, Gifted and Black.”

“She worked when she was sick and she worked when she was tired, and she believed complaining was a waste of time. She was chasing a dream—to reach the middle class.”

Black history, Sims said, is about so much more than a few household names.

“The stories we hear about black excellence often don’t include the common folk who really got their hands dirty.” 

Sims, a young alumni trustee at the College, was the event’s keynote speaker. An activist dedicated to eradicating homelessness, enfranchising voters and spurring economic development in low-income communities, Sims plans to run for public office in the near future. She is currently the deputy press secretary at Chicago Public Schools; at Connecticut College, she majored in history and was a Posse and Holleran Center for Community Action and Public policy scholar.

Those who are young, gifted and black should use their talents to lift those around them, Sims told the students.

“The path may yield uncertainties, but the goals remain clear,” she said. “Do the work that has not yet been done. Do not let your age stifle your ambition.”

Dean of Institutional Equity and Inclusion John McKnight Jr. also spoke at the event, which was the first of a month-long series celebrating Black Heritage Month. Previously known as Black History Month, the name change is designed to acknowledge the historical, contemporary and future contributions made by people of African ancestry. 

McKnight urged those in attendance to tell the stories that have been left out of history.

“What should we do with history? We should study it. Face it. Revise it. And finally, we should make it,” he said.

During the ceremony, three members of the College community were presented with the 2017 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Service Awards, conferred each year on those who exemplify and uphold the legacy of Dr. King's work. The winners were Associate Professor of French and Africana Studies Nathalie Etoke, Lamiya Khandaker ’17 and Shameesha Pryor ’17.

The event also included a vocal performance by Derrick Newton ’17 and the reading of an original poem by Verdi Degbey ’20. 

The Rev. Claudia Highbaugh, dean of religious and spiritual life, gave the closing remarks.

“Today, ‘Young, Gifted and Black’ is a reminder to us that youth is a context for leadership, beauty, action, creativity, change, intellect, inspiration and success,” she said. “Nothing about what we need and how we need to grow in the black community is over. There is so much work to do.” 

February 2, 2017