• Clarissa Del Rio

Celebrating Black Excellence

America has had a long history of silencing, belittling and blatantly erasing the contributions and advancements of Black individuals in this country. Our nation intentionally stripped the identities, cultures, languages and histories of each person that was kidnapped and stolen from their land to build a country that gives nothing in return. The America we know and celebrate today would not be where it is without the innovation, persistence and exertion of Black people.

The topic of race often makes people uncomfortable in America. We often like to lie to ourselves and say that racism and civil rights are things of the past. We tell ourselves the narrative that “that time” was a dark and far away place that is no longer relevant to the issues of the present. This lie functions as a way to alleviate the guilt, shame and accountability we would have to confront with the grotesque reality of how our country has been operating since it was founded. The fact that this marginalization and violence has persisted to this day has led to the rise of the biggest international civil rights movement of 2020. Now more than ever, it is crucial to support, include and celebrate our communities of color and their achievements. Despite every obstacle Black individuals face, they continue to innovate, make meaningful contributions and be inspirations.

Looking from 2020 and beyond, there have been substantial achievements for the Black community in every area one can think of. In music, The Weeknd’s “record-shattering single” Blinding Lights led to “breaking records for the most weeks spent in the top five and the top ten among all titles in the Billboard chart's 62-year history,” according to Billboard. In the art world, American painter Titus Kaphar implemented a fellowship program to “empower emerging artists of color through intergenerational mentorship, professional development and cross-sector collaboration,” according to NXTHVN. We also saw progress in the political landscape; Kamala Harris is the first woman of color to hold the position of Vice President. Black excellence also reached to the medical sector as well, with the development of the COVID-19 vaccine being led by the African-American female scientist, Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett. It is difficult to imagine how life would be without the contributions of people of color in America.

USF senior Mikeya Stephen shared, “Black excellence to me means anyone within the African American community achieving something or creating an initiative to push our people forward. Black excellence isn’t a word to describe just one person but it’s used to describe a movement to me. It’s about breaking generational curses, feeding habits, and knowledge into the community that we once didn’t have access to.” Stephen also speaks on how Black excellence needs support here at USF. “As far as supporting and celebrating Black accomplishments at a predominately white institution, it’s important to not fall silent when major breakthroughs are made for the Black community even when the majority of students who may not be of color-can’t relate. Showing genuine support for its Black student’s accomplishments should be normal. It is important to genuinely learn about ways to halt microaggressions within predominantly white institutions and to uplift the Black student the same way you would any other. It is not an aspiration to be treated differently but to be treated equally.”

Assistant Director of Residence Education Cedricka Carver shared her thoughts on what Black excellence means to her by stating, “...Black Excellence is such a complex and layered concept. It is being able to see, recognize and nurture the fullness of Black and brown people. It is the fundamental belief that in all our greatness, we must allow our creativity, confidence, skill, talent, and authentic selves to shine in any space and on any platform. Black excellence is admiring that so many things were invented, created and brought to life by Black people. Black Excellence is the Obamas taking seats at the White House and gracefully exiting at the end of their term. Black excellence is Colin Kaepernick taking a knee against police brutality. Black Excellence is Imelme Umana making history by becoming the first Black president of Harvard Law School. Black Excellence is black women being named as the most educated women in the United States. Black Excellence is acknowledging all the firsts- the ones who are still striving and the ones who are thriving amidst all the adversity.”

Carver also expressed how Black excellence carries with it a hefty responsibility. “Although Black excellence is all these things and more, it can also show its face as a heavyweight carried by many in the Black community. The weight to do more, be more and show more; the weight to always be conscious of actions, appearances and reputation; the weight to be the one to make our community, family and parents proud. At its core is the love for the self even when the world tells us we are unlovable. Black excellence is represented in more ways today than it has been in the past. Powerful tools that we are afforded today are advances in technology and phones that allow us to see Black excellence play around the globe. You can catch a beautiful viewing or possible glimpse in various spaces on the planet from your television, to the internet; in the hospitals, in the schools, on public stages, in songs, in books and every day in our communities.”

Carver also acknowledges that Black excellence is found in daily life, not just in spectacular displays of genius and innovation. She states, “What some people do not realize is that Black excellence is deciding to continue to be and do our best in our everyday lives. It is deciding to go back into that workplace although we have been mistreated. It is deciding to continue to live and thrive despite the world wanting you to die. It is continuing to persevere regardless of the obstacles that have been put before us. Therefore, each day that a Black person decides to show themselves regardless of what obstacles come their way is a form of Black excellence. It is often seen but may be habitually overlooked. ”

As we strive to represent the beauty, contribution and power of the Black community, it is important to note that the notion of should not be used to apply pressure to Black individuals as a measure of their worthiness. In a society that has a history of deliberately erasing and silencing the Black community, the act of surviving in itself against every barrier, every obstacle, every restraint that has been placed and so deeply rooted in our system for over 400 years is astounding. Against the odds and challenges that Black and Brown citizens are faced with, there is resilience and perseverance. To reiterate the wisdom of Miss Carver, “Being one’s true authentic self in a system that has actively made every effort to erase the identity and strip away the power of one’s entire race of people is indeed an act of rebellion and excellence in itself.”

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