Africana Studies chair on Black History Month: a ‘time to reflect on Black people’s contributions’

Man smiling

Photo by Lauren Blanch

SF State’s Abul Pitre reflects on how his family’s fight for social justice shaped his career

Each February, Black History Month honors African Americans and their achievements. San Francisco State University Africana Studies Department Chair Abul Pitre shares what this annual celebration means to him, Black leaders he looks up to and how his family’s history motivated him to pursue a career in Africana Studies.

What does Black History Month mean to you?

This month represents a time to reflect on Black people’s contributions to the world. When Carter G. Woodson established Black History Week in 1926, he was paving the way to disrupt the miseducation of the American populace that had been consumed by a Eurocentric educational system.

In addition, the study of Black history can be a stimulating force that brings to life the creative genius in Black people. Human rights activist Malcolm X succinctly describes the importance of Black history when he said, “Just as a tree without roots is dead, a people without history or cultural roots also becomes a dead people.” Black history is ancient wisdom that can be used to eradicate the isms that have caused human suffering.

Who is a Black leader you look up to and why?

Elijah Muhammad, a prominent leader of the Nation of Islam who fought against white supremacy, is someone I look up to because he brought knowledge that awakened Black people to their greatness. With only a third or fourth grade education in the 1930s, he was teaching about the God Equation (a theory to understand the universe), astrobiology, genetic editing and artificial intelligence, among many other topics. He is the epitome of servant leadership bequeathing to Black people knowledge that would raise them to eminence. His discussion about the importance of history is an example of his influence where he says, “Of all our studies, history is the most attractive and best qualified to reward our research, as it develops the springs and motives of human actions and displays the consequences of circumstances which operates most powerfully on the destinies of human beings.”

You joined SF State a year ago as the Africana Studies chair. Any accomplishments you’re proud of so far?

A major accomplishment was the fall 2021 launch of “The Nathan Hare Black Power Series” in partnership with San Francisco State’s Africana Studies Department and the Black Unity Center. The series brought together Black scholars who discussed important topics in the field of Africana Studies.

Another standout accomplishment is the recent approval of the book series “Innovations in Africana Studies in the Era of Black Lives Matter” also organized by the Africana Studies Department. With this book series, we will bring together students and scholars from across the country to develop books that advance the field of Africana Studies. I am also excited about the possibility of having student contributions to my book “The Power of Blackness: Why Africana Studies Still Matters in the 21st Century.”

Other accomplishments include increased graduation rates for Africana Studies majors and the increase of newly admitted students majoring in Africana Studies.

How are you celebrating Black History Month this year?

I am celebrating Black History Month reading and reflecting on my personal journey to SF State to become a part of a department that forever changed the academy. That journey began with stories from my grandmother about Black struggle, to my parents, and relatives who fought for social justice, to my teaching at an impoverished rural high school in Louisiana where I encountered opposition to the study of Black history, to stops in between ultimately arriving to SF State.

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