Connecticut College honors 1619 Project

New London — Connecticut College on Thursday evening hosted a reception commemorating The 1619 Project, a New York Times initiative observing the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery.

The stated aim of the project was "to reframe the country's history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are."

And the aim of Connecticut College was to not let this moment go by unrecognized, and to honor the project's effort to bring 1619 to the present, said Cherise Harris, chair of the sociology department and associate director of the college's Center for the Critical Study of Race and Ethnicity.

"This is not just black history; this is American history," she said.

The center co-hosted the event — which featured poetry, a reading from a narrative of an enslaved African woman, and announcements on future programming — with Dean of Institutional Equity and Inclusion John McKnight. He, Harris and interns at the center announced speakers coming to campus in February, which is Black History Month.

Harvard professor Khalil Gibran Muhammad, who wrote an essay for The 1619 Project on the history and legacy of sugar plantations, has been invited for a talk at Conn on Feb. 24. In partnership with the Coast Guard Academy, the college is bringing Ibram X. Kendi, bestselling author and director of the Antiracist Research & Policy Center at American University, to campus on Feb. 12.

And every night in February, the Center for the Critical Study of Race and Ethnicity will be screening a different film that explores black revolutionary thought in the U.S.

McKnight said the event Thursday was more emotional than he expected, and for many gathered, that came from English professor Kate Rushin's readings of her poems "The Bridge Poem" and "On the Eastern Shore of Maryland."

In the former, she spoke of being sick of seeing and touching both sides, sick of being the bridge for everyone, sick of filling in others' gaps, sick of "being the sole black friend to 34 individual white folks."

"Stretch or drown, evolve or die," Rushin said. "You see, it's like this: The bridge I must be is the bridge to my own power. I must translate my own fears, mediate my own weaknesses."

This is something that moved sophomore Therese Etoka, who said she's had to be a bridge in a lot of different spaces and communities. She said it was good to hear she's not alone.

Neither Shandira Soto nor Acacia Tramil had read The 1619 project or knew this year marked the 400th anniversary of American slavery, but they heard about Conn's event and thought it would be a good chance to learn more about history. Tramil said that her public school in her native Chicago didn't teach her much about African history.

Also at Thursday's event, CCSRE Interim Director Sufia Uddin announced the new requirement that students take two "Social Difference and Power" courses, which may fulfill other requirements or be courses students were going to take anyway, before graduating.

e.moser@theday.com

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