A Message From President Loren J. Blanchard: Celebrating Black History Month 2023
This February, which is nationally recognized as Black History Month to honor the accomplishments of Black Americans throughout U.S. history, is lining up to be an especially exciting one for UHD. As we review what this month means to our UHD community – past, present, and future, I cannot help but contemplate the many changes surrounding our campus and the role we play.
Federally designated a Minority-Serving Institution, UHD has a strong legacy of diversity and inclusion where the pursuit for an equitable and just society and a culture of caring for others are simply in our DNA. It is no wonder that a plethora of activities are planned for February, starting with the Black Student Association’s Luncheon on Feb. 1 and the Marilyn Davies College of Business’s Inaugural Black History Month event on Feb. 2. Please view the full calendar of Black History Month events for the month.
Soon, you will begin hearing me refer to UHD as a “University with a View,” both figuratively and literally, as our next installment of the President’s Lecture Series on Feb. 22 will address that view from the perspective of the new, giant murals popping up on Downtown buildings. Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis conceived of the idea for “Big Art. Bigger Change,” an art project that seeks to unite Downtown Houston and initiate conversations leading to social change. I hope that you will join me for our panel discussion on Feb. 22 as we learn more about the murals, many of which portray the African American experience alongside murals representative of Houston’s many cultural artists, and how UHD, as an agent of change, is leading many of those conversations surrounding the importance of this work.
I would be remiss if I did not touch upon UHD’s own rich visual arts tradition fueled by Black artists. First, consider the contributions of Black artists on the walls of our own University, such as the renowned African American muralist John Biggers’ “Salt Marsh” painting, which was commissioned in 1996 and anchors the lobby of the Academic Building. Biggers, one of the founders of Texas Southern University’s Department of Art, had a vision larger than life, with influences from the Harlem Renaissance to Mexico’s mural tradition. I look in awe every time I pass his mural.
Additionally, we are so fortunate that contemporary artist Floyd Newsum is a Professor of Art here at UHD. One of the founders of Project Row Houses in the Third Ward, Newsum inspires our students as he inspires all of us with his art. For example, Marketing Communications major Aaliyah Norfleet discovered her artistic talent in Newsum’s introductory class and, with his encouragement, soon landed a spot in the 2022 Project Row Houses’ Summer Studios Residency Program. Art completely changed her life and her life’s ambition.
Newsum is currently planning his first retrospective, representing 50 years of his work as an artist and including paintings, sculptures, drawings, and prints. Curated by Mark Cervenka, UHD O'Kane Gallery Director and Professor of Art, and Lauren Cross, Curator at the Huntington Museum in California, this exhibition will open in May at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art in Wisconsin.
Lastly, the College of Humanities & Social Sciences has been awarded a Mellon Foundation Grant of $500K to support the development of a Black Studies edited collection and program embedded in scholarly research. Congratulations are in store for Principal Investigator (PI) Dr. Vida Robertson and Co-PI Dr. Felicia Harris as well as Drs. Jonathan Chism, Paul Kintzele, and Chuck Jackson for their successful project proposal.
I look forward to seeing you at one or many of the activities planned for UHD’s 2023 Black History Month Celebration. Please plan to join me Feb. 22 for the President’s Lecture as we continue to look beyond our campus to be a true Anchor Institution for Houston.
Loren J. Blanchard, Ph.D.
President, University of Houston-Downtown