From planning your future to taking a trip back in time, a number of events are scheduled for Thomas Nelson’s celebration of Black History Month. The observance begins with the HBCU Expo on Feb. 7-8 at the Hampton campus.
To date, 15 Historically Black Colleges and Universities and eight local businesses are registered for the event, which will take place 11 a.m. - 1:30 p.m. both days in Wythe Hall. Geronimo Sutphin, Thomas Nelson’s transfer and career coordinator, said it’s not about pushing HBCUs on students. It’s about options.
“We’re here at Thomas Nelson to assist (students) and be a guide to make sure they’re prepared for a career or moving to the next step,” he said. “It’s their decision. We just have to give them the tools and resources to make an informed decision.”
When Sutphin was named to his current role a little more than a year ago, he was surprised to learn that between 60-70 percent of Thomas Nelson students were not aware of HBCUs particularly given Thomas Nelson's 52 percent minority enrollment.
“That, to me, was a clear-cut sign that we as administrators, faculty, staff and advisers are not providing the total scope of all the educational opportunities for our student to partake in,” he said, emphasizing that Thomas Nelson is grateful for the relationships with schools that frequently send representatives to the College for transfer fairs but this event simply expands the scope.
Sutphin said in addition to Thomas Nelson students, he’s expecting more than 200 students from area high schools. That is one of the reasons the event spans two days. Organizers thought it might be overwhelming if everyone came on the same day. Sutphin said if things go well this year, they might be able to expand it to include a day at the Historic Triangle campus next year.
February also marks the first of two events in the Visual Arts Gallery in Templin Hall. Peter Giscombe of Norfolk State University is this year’s visiting artist for Black History Month. An exhibit featuring the former Thomas Nelson adjunct's work opens on Feb. 7. Giscombe will be on hand at the 4 p.m. event greeting and talking with students in the gallery rather than presenting a formal discussion in the auditorium.
“We find that’s really successful, and … it makes it a little more intimate with the artists, and students feel freer to ask questions about the process or the medium,” said Professor and Visual Arts department Chair Cece Wheeler noting that the exhibit lasts through Feb. 28.
Giscombe, who taught at Thomas Nelson from 2005-14, has been at Norfolk State since 2016. He is also pursuing a Ph.D. in Architectural Art History from the College of William & Mary.
“He’s pretty well-known in the art community,” Wheeler said. “He’s exhibited everywhere.”
The Visual Arts department's second February event is a student documentary called “Bay Shore Beach: The Forgotten Line in the Sand.” It tells the story of historic Bay Shore Beach, which was adjacent to Hampton's Buckroe Beach, and featured the Bay Shore Hotel. It was a popular destination for African-Americans from the late 1800s until the early 1930s when it was devastated by a hurricane. It was rebuilt, but declined in popularity after desegregation and closed in 1973.
“This was nationally and internationally known,” Wheeler said. “It was the place all the major black performers came. … It was a really big deal in black culture.” The idea for the project came from students in one of Wheeler’s classes, and they have really taken ownership of it. “The students are the ones who are organizing this,” she said. “They’ve made all the decisions.”
The event will include a reception, screening of the 20-minute film at roughly 6:45 - 7 p.m., and a panel discussion beginning at 6 p.m. on Feb. 13.
Closing out the celebration is an event called “Respect: A Tribute to Aretha Franklin” on Feb. 23 at 7:30 p.m. in the Dr. Mary T. Christian Auditorium. Available online by clicking HERE, tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door. Franklin, who died Aug. 16, 2018 at the age of 76, was known as the “Queen of Soul.” Scheduled to perform that evening are Demitra Nikki, Rea Jones-Cuffee, Traci Georges, Sherall Johnson, The WrightTouch Band and Queen Esther Marrow.