“This sounds so crazy but I don’t care if you go to another event all year, go to History Speaks.”
This is how Kiva Maxwell, Black Student Union secretary and junior elementary education major, stressed the importance of Oklahoma Christian University’s annual History Speaks event.
“History Speaks allows us to go and revisit events as actual phenomenons that are occuring now,” Maxwell said. “It no longer becomes history. For an hour, you get to have a relationship with a historical event that has forever impacted your life. That’s powerful.”
History Speaks allows Black speakers— often figures impacted by or involved with major historical events—to come to campus and share their stories with students, staff and the surrounding community. As this event takes place for the eighth time, its importance is not lost on this campus. Gary Jones, Oklahoma Christian’s Assistant Dean of Students, said one reason why History Speaks is vital is because it simultaneously educates and challenges its participants.
For the last seven years, we’ve brought these heroes to our campus to tell their stories here,” Jones said. “People are able to hear these stories from those who were actively involved in these historical moments with the purpose of not only educating others but also providing some life changing experiences. And I think every one of the people that we’ve hosted has challenged us all to be more active and vocal as we participate in the change that we want to see.”
Jones has been planning and running History Speaks since the beginning and states his deep passion for history, education and sharing Black stories is what has led this event to where it is now.
“I feel it’s my personal calling to provide this programming,” Jones said. “It’s important to be able to tell this story to people of all races and cultures because Black history is American history. It’s something I’m really passionate about and if a student goes to OC for four years and never interacts with it, then they’ve missed out on a real treat. To have this at your own feet and not even realize just how powerful it is, is a monumental deal.”
This year, History Speaks will be hearing from JoAnne Bland, who will be recounting her experiences on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, historic ground marked by the civil rights movement and the violence of March 7, 1965, also known as Bloody Sunday. Jones said he feels this narrative is particularly valuable following the 2020 election.
“The story of Bloody Sunday is an important story,” Jones said. “Coming off one of the most polarizing elections in our country’s history, the importance of people voting and using their voice, that’s what Bloody Sunday was about. It was about the Voting Rights Act and the march from Selma to Montogomery. The purpose of this (History Speaks) in particular is to get us to understand the lengths at which people had to go through to vote.”
Due to COVID-19, this year’s History Speaks is taking a virtual turn. Bland will be on site in Selma, Alabama, and will be sharing via livestream. Several organizations on campus, including the Black Student Union and Freshman Experience are setting up watch parties so viewers can still experience this event together. Maxwell states that the purpose of this is to allow all participants to process this story together and engage in impactful conversation with students of color and others.
“We want to have a space where people feel like they can listen and process together,” Maxwell said. “Having students of color be around, being able to facilitate conversation about how that history is playing out now in their lives is a good thing. We can have richer conversations and maybe we can move towards more equality, equity and diversity here in our own sphere of Oklahoma Christian.”
Even though History Speaks is different this year, both Jones and Maxwell stress the importance of the experience will only be amplified, and it should not be missed out on.
“History Speaks is important because it shows us not only that these (injustices) have been occuring, but it also shows the inner resolve within people,” Jones said. “Those who want change and have been able to fight through and exist. Sometimes the fight is just to exist. For me personally, History Speaks is a testament of what can be accomplished if you just allow yourself to keep fighting and keep pushing.”
History Speaks will be airing on Feb. 21 at 6 p.m. CT. The viewing link is oc.edu/live.