Black History Month Programming Celebrates Activism and Arts

While celebrations of the important contributions of Black individuals and communities to U.S. life and culture began in earnest at the University earlier this month, faculty, staff and students still have opportunities to engage in dozens of upcoming events planned as part of Black History Month.

Activities throughout the month of February feature African American faculty and staff from the Pitt campus, as well as leaders, artists and activists from neighboring Pittsburgh communities. 

Ron Idoko in a blue collared shirt at a lectern, speaking into a microphone.“We really wanted to build a platform for all units across the University to share the opportunities and engagements planned,” said Ron Idoko, diversity and multi-cultural program manager in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI).

ODI has curated programming and events from partners across the University on their website. (Additionally, all diversity and inclusion events are posted on the University Events Calendar.)

Idoko pointed to notable events coming up: lectures with the dean of the engineering school at the University of Texas at Dallas and the mayor of Wilkinsburg and the culmination of Black History Month with the University’s signature K. Leroy Irvis program.

The Swanson School of Engineering Hosts Stephanie Adams

The Swanson School of Engineering will host “From College Drop-Out to Dean: Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey,” a presentation by Stephanie Adams, dean of the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Texas and president of American Society for Engineering Education.

Adams will share the trials, tribulations and joys of her life and journey from two-time college drop-out to industry, academia, consulting, government and now to dean at the University of Texas.

The event, presented by the Swanson School of Engineering’s Office of Diversity in partnership with PITT STRIVE, will take place on Tuesday, Feb. 25, from noon to 2 p.m. at the University Club, Ballroom A.

Read more about the event, and register online.

2020 Roscoe Robinson Jr. Memorial Lecture

On Wednesday, Feb. 26, the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs is hosting the 2020 Roscoe Robinson Jr. Memorial Lecture featuring Wilkinsburg Mayor Marita Garrett. The event will take place from noon to 1:30 p.m. at Posvar Hall.

Garrett will discuss empowering Wilkinsburg residents to work together for neighborhood improvement, her transition from borough council member to mayor and her award-winning work as a civic and social entrepreneur.

RSVP for the event by emailing Dayna Jenkins at

K. Leroy Irvis Black History Month Program

A memorial dedicated to K. Leroy Irvis.Wrapping up events across campus will be the University’s signature Black History Month event, the  K. Leroy Irvis Black History Month program. The program is named for the legendary Pennsylvania legislative leader, Pitt alumnus (LAW '54) and emeritus trustee. Irvis, who in 1977 became the first African American speaker of the House in Pennsylvania and the first Black speaker of any state house since Reconstruction, sponsored the 1966 bill that made Pitt a state-related university.

This year’s theme is “Black to the Future: A Festival of Art, Social Justice and Dreaming” and takes place Feb. 26-29.

“Our big focus, especially with the ‘K. Leroy Irvis Black to the Future Festival,’ was to think dynamically; expand the programming; and really think about how we attract different audiences, highlight Black culture and explore how art is utilized as activism,” Idoko said. “Black art has been prevalent throughout history for its inclusion of messaging about race, culture and equity; how do we envision a future for art to advance advocacy and activism?”

The four-day festival begins on Thursday, Feb. 26, and celebrates creative arts across genres. All events are free and open to the public. Visit the website for program information, including an agenda of events.

Dawn Lundy Martin, professor of English in the Writing Program and director of Pitt’s Center for African American Poetry and Poetics, said the festival is a reframing of what it means to celebrate Black History Month. 

Dawn Lundy Martin posing in a dark jacket and blue dress shirt.“The festival has an eye toward the relationship between remembering and reimagining; it’s a way to honor the past while simultaneously imagining the future we want to live in,” Martin said. “With concepts from AfroFuturists in mind, the festival brings together ‘the imagination, technology, the future, and liberation’ via experimentation and a redefinition of culture and blackness itself. It also focuses on the critical impact of art, poetry and music in helping to change culture so that what we dream might actually become reality.”

As part of the festival, an art exhibition will be up in the Connolly Ballroom of Alumni Hall from Feb. 26 through 28, featuring works by 15 regional artists. Many of the pieces will be for sale.

On Friday, Feb. 28, a board will be installed in the room for attendees to post their Six-word Stories with any thoughts related to the festival theme.