University of South Florida


Reflecting on Black History Month

Won’t it be wonderful when black history and native American history and Jewish history and all of U.S. history is taught from one book. Just U.S. history.

Maya Angelou

Dear USF Community, 

Throughout the month of February, the University of South Florida joins our nation in celebrating Black History Month. It’s an opportunity to learn more about Black history and the achievements of Black Americans in the spirit of USF’s pursuit of intellectual inquiry. The university has offered a full slate of Black Heritage Month virtual events across our campuses, which I invite you to take advantage of throughout the month. 

As I’ve reflected this month on the struggles and achievements of the Black Americans who shaped USF’s history, it cannot be overstated how important their contributions are to the values and aspirations that characterize USF today.

In the early 1970s, a small group of USF’s first Black faculty and staff began to meet to discuss issues of inclusion and equity affecting USF Black students, faculty and staff. The group’s discussions led to a meeting with then USF President Cecil Mackey, who officially commissioned the group as the Black Faculty and Staff Association (BFSA) in 1980. 

Over 40 years later, the BFSA continues to tirelessly advocate for the recruitment and retention of well-qualified and talented employees along with promoting the success of USF students. On 24 February, the BFSA will host its 32nd annual event to welcome USF’s newest Black faculty and staff – approximately 160 people. Co-sponsored by the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Equal Opportunity, the event celebrates the commitment to excellence through diversity and inclusion that USF exemplifies.

Meanwhile, the Institute on Black Life is celebrating its 35th year at USF as a resource to support education and research focused on Blackness and Anti-Black racism. The institute’s annual research conference – held during Black History Month – this year focused on the recently funded interdisciplinary research to address Blackness and Anti-Black racism in our communities. I invite you to review the recordings of the faculty presentations from the conference. 

Black faculty, staff, students and alumni representing a number of affinity groups and academic departments across our campuses are collaborating in new ways to create an infrastructure for greater advocacy for racial equity and inclusion. These include our Africana Studies faculty and advisors, Committee on Black Affairs, Black Leadership Network, Black Student Union, and the Black Employee Steering Committee, formed in 2020.

To explore potentially powerful synergies among these groups, in late January, we convened a first meeting of a Black Advisory Group at USF with the goal of bringing together leaders of organizations and entities that focus on serving or advocating for Black members of the USF community. Our discussion, led by Professor Elizabeth Hordge-Freeman, was productive as we explored how we currently work together and in what ways the university can strengthen our connections to advance diversity and inclusion. Our Anti-Racism website is USF’s university-wide digital hub to capture and inspire these emerging efforts.

These conversations – much like the conversations 50 years ago that led to the formation of the BFSA – will drive us toward action to address issues such as the recruitment of Black faculty and students to USF and creating programs, trainings and research to increase understanding of Black culture and racism.

Today, we are guided in these efforts by our Principles of Community, which we adopted together in 2020 and include a commitment at USF to supporting diversity, individual dignity, equity, and our common humanity.

History illustrates that institutional progress to advance diversity and inclusion has stemmed from individual and collective actions, often in the face of adversity. During these remaining weeks of Black History Month and the months and years ahead, I urge each of us to think deeply on how we can take action and inspire positive change. 

I’m grateful to those whose tireless efforts have transformed – and will continue to improve – USF as a pathway to opportunity open to all. You are making history.

President Currall

Return to article listing