Dr. Rupe Simms
Professor of Africana Studies
North Park University
Why is Black History Month important?
For Black students, it exposes them to our culture, which generally they do not learn about in their studies here, unless they take classes specifically relating to African Americans and their history. It affirms our identity. Being in this environment, which is white and Eurocentric, our identity and our culture are demeaned, overlooked, and discredited. We can sometimes accept that evaluation of ourselves, and then we are prone to modify our values and sense of identity based on what we receive. Not only do we reject our own culture, but we also embrace a culture that is not ours. I hope that Black History Month will serve as a barrier to us having that experience.
For the white community, it is important because it informs them of our values, contribution, and culture, and for other non-European students, it provides an alternative to the Eurocentric perspective. I have studied in white schools, and I have had the experience of being exposed to white culture and embracing it, so it took a concentrated investigation of my own culture to see its value and what I had missed. I was so highly impacted by this experience that I earned a master’s degree and a PhD to be able to address that issue in the classroom.
Who are some famous individuals in history that have inspired you personally? Why?
Jesus, Frederick Douglass, Nelson Mandela, Angela Davis, Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, Marcus Garvey, Kwame Nkrumah, Karl Marx, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Ida B. Wells all are powerful women and men, and the nature of their influence differs.
I have always been impressed with Frederick Douglass because of how much he accomplished in the face of such adversity. He was born an enslaved African person, had no sense of who his father was, though he thought he was the slave owner. He saw his mother only at intervals, so he had no consistent relationship with her. He was beaten, he was abused, he attempted to run away, and he was caught. But nonetheless, he was able to reach a position of international reputation in the Abolitionist Movement because of his own hard work and giftedness. Moreover, the president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, consulted with him about how to manage certain elements of the Civil War. The language, rhythm and quality of his writing are unbelievably powerful, and he had to learn how to read on his own because he was denied the opportunity to study in the schools of his day.
How have you influenced the black community at North Park?
I have had the most influence on the Black students who have taken my classes and have been in my major. It has given them a sense of identity and confidence and has replaced, in a sense, what has been taken from them. It helps to equip them to be successful in white, racist America.
(Interviewed by Deima Thompson)