Black History Month (BHM), which runs from February 1st to February 29th, is a time for Americans to pause and reflect on the contributions of its citizens who represent the African diaspora. For Booth students, this month is an additional opportunity to foster the essential value of diversity and inclusion. And I am honored to help create a month-long BHM series, hosted by Chicago Booth’s African American MBA Association (AAMBAA).
Black at Booth
I can distinctly remember being a freshman in high school, and asking my history teacher, “Why don’t we cover the history of Africa?” His answer, although pragmatic, made me feel invisible. You see, this course was global history, in which we covered Europe, China, and Native American conquests and wars. African history, I learned that day, was not a priority.
Fifteen years later, this sentiment holds true. Currently, while searching for textbooks that cover how Africans have influenced regions beyond their border, I managed to only find five texts. At Chicago Booth, for the first time, I felt empowered to change this narrative for both myself and my peers. Black history is rich, myriad, and worth acknowledging. I felt inspired to create Black History Month programming that the entire Booth community can benefit from. Here are a few highlights we’ve experienced so far…
One of the amazing features of going to school in Hyde Park is having access to both the Museum of Science and Industry, and to the DuSable Museum of African American History. Just a fifteen minute walk from Harper campus, DuSable holds more than 15,000 paintings, sculptures, and historical memorabilia of the African diaspora. Fun fact: the museum’s namesake comes from Jean Baptiste Point DuSable, a Haitian of African and French descent, who in 1779 established the trading post which came to be known as Chicago.
Chicago’s Pullman Neighborhood
Pullman is both a neighborhood and historic district, envisioned in 1880 as George Pullman’s utopia for his industrial workers. George Pullman was ahead of his time by seeking out and hiring former slaves to work as Pullman Porters. 140 years later, the original brick row houses still stand. Like many neighborhoods on Chicago’s South Side, in which local economies relied on factories, Pullman transformed into a food desert and a place of high poverty by the early 2000s. I, along with nine other Boothies, had the opportunity to tour the neighborhood with local guide Ciere Boatright (Vice President, Diversity and Inclusion) of Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives.
First, we gathered in the Pullman Food Hall and sampled vegan soul food, barbecue, and gluten-free baked goods. Ciere then whisked us away to her office’s eleventh floor, where we saw a birds-eye view of Pullman’s latest real estate developments. As we toured the often-packed community center, we not only ran into professional NBA recruits, but met alderman Anthony A. Beale of Chicago’s 9th ward. As if the tour couldn’t get any better, we checked out the Artspace Lofts, a mixed-used affordable live and work space for artists and their families. We ended the tour by driving around Pullman, which felt like stepping through time… literally.
Often, it’s so easy to get trapped in the downtown Loop bubble. The Pullman visit inspired me to check out more of Chicago’s 61 neighborhoods, especially those in the South and West sides, which were historically under-served.
In collaboration with the Graduate Business Council, twelve students visited an Afrofuturism immersive art pop-up at Hebru Brantley’s Nevermore Park. Heavily influenced by Southside Chicago’s Afro Cobra movement in the sixties, Hebru Brantley uses various mediums (including coffee and tea!) to explore complex ideas. In his latest exhibit, we saw Chance the Rapper’s image in a cloud, tried on a pair of oversized goggles, and explored an L train outfitted as a Pullman Car. At that moment, things came full circle for me. I love Chicago, and all it has to offer. I cannot imagine pursuing my MBA in another city.
If you enjoyed this article, please check back in at the end of February for Part II!