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I Rise, You Rise, We Rise: Mills’ BWC

Photo of some of the members of the Black Women's Alliance. (Image courtesy of BWC)
Photo of some of the members of the Black Women’s Alliance. (Image courtesy of BWC)

Mills College’s Black Women’s Collective (BWC) has helped plan an array of events that will take place over the next couple of weeks in celebration of February’s Black History Month. Diverse, elemental and inter-generational, the upcoming events seek to celebrate not only Black culture and history, but also how individuals experience Black identity, said BWC Publicity Chair Ariona Jean-Johnson.

The theme of this year’s Black History Month is “Black and…” with a focus on the intersections of selfhood.

“There is so much more to us than just race, but being Black impacts every single one of our identities,” Jean-Johnson said.

Dr. Julia Oparah is head of the Ethnic Studies department and has been the advisor of the Black Women’s Collective for over 10 years.

 “There is no one single way to be Black,” Oparah said. “Media seems very unidimensional–[there’s] one accent, one look, and not everyone who’s Black identifies as African-American.”

This year, the BWC is highlighting “all those different parts that make you, you,” according to Jean-Johnson. Oparah says the events are to “recognize, honor, and celebrate” that there is “not just one journey.”

Black History Month began with the the photo exhibition and timeline along the pathway in Toyon Meadow.

“The timeline is very personal,” Oparah said. BWC members helped create the photo exhibition and wrote about what being Black means them, “creating a new narrative about what Blackness can be,” Oparah said.

BWC members at their club booth. (Image courtesy of BWC)
BWC members at their club booth. (Image courtesy of BWC)

The emphasis on individual experience was carried through to the The Pocketbook and Panza Monologues, a night of literature and performance. The Black History Month Mills College webpage describes the event as an exploration of “personal identities and relationships to the body through creative pieces.”

It’s like “women of color monologues,” Jean-Johnson said of the Feb. 6 event. BWC members performed pieces from “Pocketbook Monologues” by Sharon McGhee, which is “hailed by many as ‘The Vagina Monologues with Soul,’” according to the event description. Mujeres Unidas members also performed parts from The Panza Monologues, based on a series of writing by Chicanas. The Panza Monologues confront issues women face in their everyday lives and place the belly as the symbol and focus of the piece.

Jean-Johnson is excited about the collaboration between organizations.

“We yearn to build solidarity with other groups on campus,” Jean-Johnson said.

The BWC had another collaboration with Ascent, the African American Graduate Association, for the Black Success Conference on Feb.7. The conference provided resources to foster, raise and promote Black success. The focus for this year’s conference was “I Rise, You Rise, We Rise!” based on Maya Angelou’s poem, “Still I Rise.”

Part of the Black Success Conference was also to bring Mills MBA alumnae back to campus to give presentations. According to Oparah, it was all about “Mills students out in the world and how they come back to the community.”

The Mills College Black History Month celebrations would not be complete without experiencing and displaying works by contemporary artists of color, ranging from film to poetry and dance to acrylic paint.

On Feb.10, Marion Bethel’s film Freedom, Womanish Ways and Democracy: The Woman’s Suffrage Movement in the Bahamas: 1948-1962 is screening.

“There is a strong Caribbean presence in the Bay Area,” Oparah said, “and Caribbean ancestry is oftentimes not realized.” The film highlights the struggles of women in the Bahamas during their fight for suffrage and what can be learned from their activism. 

In addition to the film screening, Mills will be home to a two-day exhibition, The Art of Being Black, on Saturday, Feb. 22 and Sunday, Feb. 23 in the Student Union. “The Art of Living Black,” is part of the Bay Area Black Artists Exhibition and Art Tour 2014, which will showcase works by 15 artists of African descent from the Bay Area, including Mills English professor, Ajuan Mance.

“There’s no reason why you shouldn’t go,” Jean-Johnson said. “You can’t know about something unless you proactively try. This is another avenue to experience Black culture.”

Another event that aspires to expand conceptions of Black culture is the fashion show to be held on Tuesday, Feb. 25 in the Student Union. The fashion show will celebrate Africa and different facets of the African diaspora with an array of fashion. Local businesses will have merchandise for sale and Mills students will be the models on the runway.

“Africa is huge—obviously—but people lump it [together],” Jean-Johnson said. “We’re trying to show variety.”

The Dimensions Dance Theater is on a similar wavelength; the Friday, Feb.28 performance will include choreographed pieces from the past 40 years and will feature different global styles and aesthetics of dance. Dimensions Dance Theater is a special part of the Mills community because it was founded by three alumnae. Though it is a ticketed event, the tickets are free with a valid Mills student ID.

The final event is a film premier and book launch of Unearthing the Dream and Proud Legacy: The “Colored” Schools of Malvern, Arkansas, and the Community that Made Them. The documentary Unearthing the Dream by Pam Uzzell explores the Black schools within the Arkansas community before integration. Professor Ajuan Mance has written the book that accompanies Uzzell’s film. Mance, who went to college with Uzzell, explained that “a book can go into a lot of detail that a film can’t.”

And it didn’t take Mance long to realize that the story of the Malvern community needed to be written.

(Image courtesy of BWC)
(Image courtesy of BWC)

“A lot of Black schools under segregation were good schools—though poorly funded in ways that support white supremacy,” Mance said. “When [the schools] were integrated, [the students] could really feel the racism. That loss and all of the traditions [lost], no one talks about. The book in a sense is for the community but it’s also so people won’t forget. That’s what it’s about. It’s gone but it was amazing.”

After the film, Mance and Uzzell will hold a discussion.

All events at Mills College for Black History Month are free with a student ID; the Black History Month Dinner is free with a meal plan.

“Black and…” is described on the Black History Month Mills webpage as helping “challenge limiting ideas about what Black people can be and achieve.” The events organized on campus with the Black Women’s Collective strive to represent the ways in which members of our communities are “Black and…”

For more information about these events, visit

Upcoming Events

Black History Month Photo Display
Toyon Meadow, February

Black History Month Kick Off 
12:15 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 4, Suzanne Adams Plaza

Pocketbook and Panza Monologues
7:00 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 6, Student Union

Black Success Conference*
9:00am-2:00 p.m., Friday, Feb. 7, Lorry I. Lokey Graduate School of Business 101

*Must reserve tickets. Free for Mills students.

Filmmaker Marion Bethel and Film Screening Freedom, Womanish Ways and Democracy: The Women’s Suffrage Movement in the Bahamas: 1948-1962 
7:00 p.m., Monday, Feb. 10, Danforth Auditorium

Black History Month Dinner
5:00 – 7:00 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 12, Founders Hall

Black and… Exploring the Intersections
7:00 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 12, Faculty Staff Lounge

Black Faculty and Staff Appreciation Dinner (Invitation only)
5:30 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 18, Reinhardt Alumnae House

Creative Expressions of Faith and Identity
7:00 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 20, Mills Chapel

The Art of Living Black—Open Studios Art Fair
11:00-5:00 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 22 and 23, Student Union

Fashion Show
7:00 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 25, Student Union

Forty Years Strong: Dimensions Dance Theater*
7:00 p.m., Friday, Feb. 28, Lisser Theater

*Must reserve tickets. Free for Mills students.

Black History Film Premier and Book Launch: “Unearthing the Dream,” and “Proud Legacy: The ‘Colored’ Schools of Malvern, Arkansas and the Community that Made Them”
7:00 p.m., Thursday, March 6, Danforth Auditorium