Cal Lutheran kicks off Black History Month


Photo contributed by Kevin Varnell

Lorri Santamaria, Regina Biddings-Muro and Melinda Roper applaud performers at the Black History Month Kick-Off.

Taylor Love, News Editor

On Feb. 1, 2022 California Lutheran University began Black History Month with a speech from President Lori Varlotta, spoken word poetry from Dr. Erika Jackson, performances from Black Student Union President Maya Fleming as well as several other students. The event took place in Kingsmen Park and featured food from It’s in the Sauce Food Truck.

“It felt so good to be in person with such a wonderful group of students, faculty and staff,” Varlotta said. 

Due to precautions taken in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, all Black History Month events in 2021 were moved online. With this being the first in-person event to this magnitude for Black History Month since Cal Lutheran opened, and after the previous year being hard on many students, faculty and staff, the response from the audience was noticeable. 

“The energy was palpable, you could just tell that people were pleased to be together, to be part of something that was meaningful, and to enjoy each other’s company in the moment” Varlotta said.

Maya Fleming, president of Cal Lutheran’s Black Student Union, was one of the student performers during the kick-off. All that was running through her head was making sure everyone had a good time. 

“I think I was really just focused on trying to keep the energy up in the crowd,” Fleming said.

This year marks the first year Cal Lutheran has had a full roster of events for the entire month. Dr. Lorri Santamaria, the director of faculty development and inclusive excellence, highlighted the importance of Black History Month at the university.

“It’s about honoring Black and African American people of the past, and you know, celebrating the music and the history and the film, but also celebrating the people at the institution, and the excellence of the people, cause it’s hard to get into higher education,” Santamaria said.

Santamaria also offered a bit of background information about the history of Black History Month that she believes is important for people to know.

“Black History Month, it came from Carter G. Woodsen, and that came out of the organization of the first Negro History week in February of 1926…It was President Gerald Ford who actually instituted the first Black History Month, so I think that is important for people to know,” Santamaria said.

Dr. Sharla Berry, the president of the university’s Black Employees Association (BEA), said that this is something that they have wanted to do for a while now.

“We, for some time, kind of wanted to help the university acknowledge Black History Month, and the contributions of African Americans,” Berry said.

The main thing that many of those involved with the set up of Black History Month events this year want people to take away is that this is about building relationships and community. Malik Walker, one of the performers, is hoping that this event brought to light the talents of some of the students on campus.

“What I am hoping to get out of that is community, I just want everyone to come together and enjoy the music, enjoy each other’s talents,” Walker said.

Santamaria agrees that relationships are the most important thing to work on for future change at Cal Lutheran.

“It’s all about relationships, it’s all about trust, and if we don’t have relationships and trust, we can’t fix it, if we don’t show up, we can’t fix it,” Santamaria said.

Varlotta thinks that this month will start the necessary work that needs to be done to move the university forward.

“So much of what we need to do at the campus is to build relationships, to get to know each other, spend time with each other, so I’m really excited about the opportunities to do exactly that,” Varlotta said.

Varlotta knows that there is work to be done, and said that some of it has already begun. The school helps fund the affinity groups so that events like the Black History Month kick-off can happen.

“Some of the things we are doing: we have a fund that’s available in the office of the Vice President of Talent, Culture and Diversity, Cristallea Buchanan, has a fund available to support affinity groups and programs like Black History Month…It’s not just that we are talking about supporting programs, we’re providing financial resources for those programs,” Varlotta said. 

Berry wants people to know that everyone has a role to play in diversity, equity and inclusion, and that it is not just for those who are affected. 

“I hope everybody [who] walks away kind of finds their role in that work and starts to do some of that equity work for themselves and whatever that looks like,” Berry said.

Santamaria, who thinks of herself as an optimist, says that she believes there is hope for the future for Black and African American people not only at Cal Lutheran, but in the United States as a whole.

“I believe that we are turning a corner here, I believe that people are done being divisive and done with this disrespect and lack of trust and it’s starting from the top, and I think that that’s really important and I have a great deal of hope that things are moving,” Santamaria said. 

Kevin Varnell contributed to this report.