The hosts of this year’s The Big Dinner: African American Heritage Celebration said they wished they could serve the traditional meal that helps make the annual event one of the most popular Black History Month celebrations at The University of Texas at Dallas. Instead, due to the pandemic, guests were encouraged to grab a plate and watch the event online at home.

The festivities, originally planned for mid-February, were postponed until March 4 due to the winter storm that left millions in Texas without power. However, Déjà Rollins MA’18, the keynote speaker, said the new date turned out to be an even better time for the event.

“It’s symbolic of the fact that Black history celebrations should transcend those 28 days in February,” said Rollins, a doctoral student in communications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Events to honor and celebrate Black History Month at the University also featured a kickoff party, an online panel discussion and presentation called “The Truth: Black Wall Street & Entrepreneurship Panel,” and movie-watching events sponsored by the School of Arts and Humanities. The celebration is a collaborative effort between students, staff and faculty, and is coordinated through the Multicultural Center. This year’s theme was “I Am My Ancestors’ Wildest Dreams.”

During her speech at The Big Dinner, Rollins encouraged students to explore the rich history of Black Americans, such as the story of Henry “Box” Brown, a slave who gained freedom by arranging to have himself shipped in a wooden crate in 1849 to abolitionists in Philadelphia.

“When we talk about our Black and African ancestors, we should always remember that our history did not start with slavery; it was interrupted by slavery,” Rollins said. “Further, slavery is white history. How our ancestors survived and persisted is Black history. Never forget that.”

UT Dallas students and Big Dinner co-hosts Stephen Kamau and Ellen McKay introduced keynote speaker Déjà Rollins MA’18, who encouraged attendees to explore the rich history of Black Americans. “When we talk about our Black and African ancestors, we should always remember that our history did not start with slavery; it was interrupted by slavery,” Rollins said. “Further, slavery is white history. How our ancestors survived and persisted is Black history. Never forget that.”

Rollins shared stories of others who risked their lives to fight oppression and encouraged students to consider how they will improve life for future generations.

“There’s still work that needs to be done,” Rollins said. “When the torch has been handed to you, what will you do with it?”

In addition to the keynote speech, the event featured a recorded dance performance by Diandra Nelson, a neuroscience and psychology sophomore.

The Big Dinner was hosted by Stephen Kamau, a healthcare studies senior and Student Ambassador; and Ellen McKay, an economics and finance senior who works as a multicultural peer advocate in the Multicultural Center and served as chair of this year’s planning committee.

Organizers have not yet rescheduled two other Black History Month events postponed by the inclement weather in February. These are “Royal Pursuit: Pursuing Black Excellence,” a leadership forum featuring UT Dallas Black alumni, faculty and staff panelists; and Trap Yoga, a style that combines yoga with trap music, a type of hip hop that originated in the southern U.S.