Office of the President

Celebrating Black History Month

February 5, 2021

Dear Campus Community,

This week marks the start of Black History Month, a national celebration dating back almost a century. Through a variety of virtual events and commemorative stories, Cal Poly Pomona recognizes and honors history-making Black Americans in our community and beyond, and I encourage you to participate.

Beyond celebrating the achievements and contributions of Black Americans to our nation and the world, Black History Month also serves as an opportunity to uncover and safeguard the histories of Black Americans that have been ignored, lost or stolen. When we study the past, we more fully understand the present and likewise foster a keener vision for building our future. Therefore, the great promise of our society — to dismantle systemic racism and inequality and realize our nation’s founding principles — depends on bringing to the fore the histories that have been distorted, ignored or hidden.

In 1962, the noted author and activist James Baldwin wrote a letter to his young nephew and namesake. Explaining what it means to be Black in America, Baldwin’s counsel included the stirring pronouncement: “Know whence you came. If you know whence you came, there is really no limit to where you can go.”

As a Black educator, my own journey has only been possible through those from “whence [I] came,” those whose sacrifice, struggles and determination made my own path imaginable.

My path was made possible by John Chavis, who in 1799 became the first Black American to attend an American university.

My path was made possible by Edward Bouchet, who became the first Black American to earn a Ph.D. from an American university when he completed his dissertation in physics at Yale in 1876.

My path was made possible by trailblazers like Georgiana Simpson, Sadie Mossell Alexander and Eva Dykes, who in 1921 became the first Black American women to receive doctoral degrees.

My path was made possible by Autherine Lucy, who refused to let a long litigation, death threats, riots and a sham expulsion keep her from the education that was her right.

And, my path was made possible by Marguerite Ross Barnett, who was the first Black American woman to lead a major university.

Truly, my journey from Goldsboro, North Carolina, to Pomona, California, doesn’t happen without these individuals, and so many others, who have paved the path before, and were aided by those who believed in the Constitution and the goal of a more perfect “union” for all.

As we celebrate Black History Month, we celebrate the achievements and contributions of Black Americans to our nation and the world. And by affirming this history, we prove Mr. Baldwin’s promise of a limitless future and the fostering of a society upheld by justice, equity and human dignity.

While my journey may be different, we each bring our individual and group histories, that are shaped by struggles, pain, exclusion, resilience and achievements. For some, there are likely intersections and parallels. It is our collective experiences that comprise the Cal Poly Pomona “mosaic,” through which we are made stronger and richer!


Soraya M. Coley, Ph.D.