University of Wyoming officials and organizers saw the attendance of members of the Black 14 as a critical part of the Black History Conference 2019, sharing a local experience of how diversity awareness has shaped the college and local community.
Seven members of the Black 14 gave a paneled discussion about their experiences both during and after being kicked off the 1969 UW football team for attempting to protest their game against Brigham Young University. The Moot Courtroom at the UW college of Law was packed as UW students, faculty and Laramie residents heard the Black 14’s side of the story and how their lives were impacted in the 50 years since.
Emily Monago, chief diversity officer with the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, said the panel was organized as a way for the campus community to learn a new perspective on the story and the Black 14 to continue the process of healing.
Many of the Black 14 members, including Guillermo Hysaw, said during the panel that they thought they’d never come back to campus after being dismissed from the team 50 years ago. Hysaw said during the conference that the Martin Luther King, Jr. Days of Dialogue events really “resonated” with him, and it was hard to find a reason not to come.
Monago said it was very important that UW students got the opportunity to hear from as many of the Black 14 as possible while they were back on campus facilitating the conversation.
“It’s all about dialogues, creating those opportunities to have those conversations,” Monago said. “We can’t move anything forward without bringing people together, having those difficult conversations.”
One of the coordinators of the conference, Marcus Watson, said bringing the Black 14 back to campus was also important to facilitate dialogue about an often ignored or misunderstood piece of UW’s history.
“Black history is not usually considered American history,” Watson said. “The same thing with the Black 14 and the history of the university; we usually tell the history of the university without black people, and in particular these incredibly important black people.”
Watson added it was important that the conference create a space for the Black 14 to “sit there and be black” and for everybody to “see them and hear them” and know their stories. He added the conference wanted “to reemphasize the importance, especially in Africana cultures, of respecting our elders.”
“Our major theme is generational perspectives,” Watson said. “They are elders, and key ones for the consciousness of the university.”
Frederick Douglas Dixon, the other principal organizer of the conference, added it was important to listen to the voices of a previous generation out of a “matter of respect.” He said it was a way to show a younger generation a good example of the sacrifices previous generations have made standing up for their beliefs.
“We hope if [young people] will absorb it, they’ll understand the importance and they’ll, not duplicate it, but they’ll understand the fundamentals and do things according to what they’ve been taught,” Dixon said.
UW’s Black History Month programming is part of an overarching goal of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion to include more conversations and events centered around marginalized communities, Monago said.
“Always we’re thinking about inclusion and bringing to the center voices that might have been marginalized or shouted out or closed out,” Monago said. “When you look towards the fringes, everyone benefits.”
The university is also bringing those lessons and conversations to the classroom in a variety of departments, Watson said, especially in his and Dixon’s department, African American and Diaspora Studies.
“Class by class we’re hoping to raise the discourse, the consciousness around social justice, fairness and equality,” Watson said. “For us, this [event] was a home-run swing at it.”
The conference also featured a keynote speech by Leslie McLemore, civil rights activist, as well as other panel discussions relating to Black History Month. The conference was a collaborative effort between university groups, including the UW Athletics department, the UW Communications Department, the Social Justice Research Center, the Honor’s College and more.
For more Black History Month events, go to www.uwyo.edu/uw/news/2019/01/black-history-month-events-scheduled-at-uw.html