September 14, 2015

Black Studies Department celebrates 150th anniversary of the end of slavery with film fest

By Carissa Woytach

his fall will mark the anniversary of the signing of the 13th Amendment, the end of the Civil War and through these two events — the end of slavery. This momentous occasion will be celebrated by Cleveland State University’s Black Studies department through the “150th Anniversary of the End of Slavery Film Fest” Tuesday, Sept. 15 in Main Classroom 137 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The film festival is an interdisciplinary celebration of the advancements in racial equality in the past 150 years, as well as a reminder of the work that needs to be done, according to Prester Pickett, coordinator of the Howard A. Mims African American Cultural Center.

In conjunction with other annual events around the city that highlight Cleveland’s own role in the abolitionist movement such as Station Hope on the Underground Railroad — the festival works to create a space for dialogue on the advancements and accomplishments of African Americans locally and nationally.

“When we celebrate the ending of slavery, we celebrate American history,” Pickett said. “We celebrate the fact that we are able to experience so many joys because we fellowship with each other in a way that we would not have celebrated…if that cruel institution still existed. Showing the films is really symbolic — it’s an acknowledgement that the Black Studies program is really attentive to a historic moment that is not lifted in the way you would think it would be.”

These films — which were chosen primarily on their availability in the Michael Schwartz Library — are meant to bring students together to facilitate discussion on the history of slavery, as well as the modern form of human trafficking, according to Pickett.

“This is definitely an academic conversation — or I’d say an academic inspiration — to say to our students, to the faculty, to the community…that ‘I was here to acknowledge the 13th Amendment’ and then relate it to some of the conversations we have today about human trafficking,” he said. “The nature of discussions about slavery still relate to us in a different way.”

Film makers are very valuable, according to Pickett. While their films allow multiple viewpoints to come together on an issue, they also breathe life into history. The Howard A. Mims Cultural Center was dedicated by film maker Spike Lee in his uncle’s memory.

Heile Gima’s “Sankofa” (1993) — one of the films that will be shown at the festival — also shows the Cultural Center partnership with another filmmaker. Gima visited Cleveland State shortly after his film was released to work in conjunction with faculty members at the university for a project at the Grafton Correctional Facility, and also illustrates the ingenuity and versatility of African American technology, according to Pickett.

“[“Sankofa”] talks about not only the cruelty of that slave system, but the brilliance of the African descendants who were enslaved to have a level of resistance…to say that there is the understand that we can change things,” he said.

The “150th Anniversary of the End of Slavery Film Festival” celebrates multiple historical events while promoting resources available to students and engaging them in discussion.

“Here you are, in the middle of a great city with the repository in front of you, accessible with your keyboard — in your office, in your home — and you can watch this history,” he said. “And then [you] can discuss these things that you’ve seen with your classmates or come to the Howard A. Mims Cultural Center and view these films with other people and feel their response to those films.”

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