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"KnOw Your Roots:" Kappa Omicron hosts Black history event

Members of Delta Sigma Theta and UNC alumni pose together during "KnOw Your Roots," a two-day event highlighting the Black history at UNC, on Feb. 15, 2022. A panel of alumni speakers, pictured here with the Deltas, spoke about their experiences from their time at the University.
Photo Courtesy of The Kappa Omicron chapter of Delta Sigma Theta.

Steele Building was the first UNC building where Black students were allowed to live. But they were only allowed to do so on the third floor — away from the white students. 

Stories and events like this about Black history at UNC are abundant, but not all students are aware of them. 

The Kappa Omicron chapter of Delta Sigma Theta hosted a two-day event last week called "KnOw Your Roots". This event highlighted the Black history at UNC through a self-guided tour with 17 stops — including Steele Building — and a panel of alumni speakers. 

The chapter is the first Black sorority at UNC and arrived on campus in 1973. The sorority gives a space for Black women to come together and collaborate. 

“I think it's great that we're able to carve out space on this campus to do a lot of the work that we're doing because, for generations, we've had to fight to say a lot of things that we're saying and do a lot of things that we're doing,” Tylah Harrison, the chapter's president, said. 

A large focus of the chapter is activism. Harrison said the chapter hopes to promote this through its five pillars: education, economic development, political awareness and involvement, international awareness and physical and mental health. 

“We wanted to really focus this year a lot on highlighting our history as a chapter and Black history on campus, just because, as we all know, Black history is really intertwined with UNC history,” Harrison said. 

The goals of this event were diversity and equity, belonging and awareness. These were addressed by talking about topics regarding Black students on a predominantly white campus, exposing the unseen achievements of Black students and promoting new perspectives. 

The Deltas of the Kappa Omicron chapter wanted to create a more intimate experience on the tour, so they made their components more physical as opposed to just presenting them digitally.

“Rather than it being only on your computer, we wanted students to be able to engage with the signs and read the history as they walked into their classrooms or as they walked into their dorms,” Jayna Ellis, one of the chapter's vice presidents said. “Just because sometimes our campus is vast, we forget that there are intimate moments on our campus where history has been made.”

The signs listed historical characters at UNC, such as Hortense McClinton, the first Black faculty member at UNC, and events like the creation of Soul Food Cafeteria after Black workers protested low wages and discrimination. 

The panel of speakers included five people who shared their unique experiences from their time at the University. This group included Edith Hubbard, the second Black woman to receive an undergraduate degree at UNC, and Councilman Chris Suggs, who became one of the youngest officials ever elected in North Carolina when he won a seat on the Kinston City Council in 2021.  

“All the panelists had a special part to the program and all their experiences just made students realize the impact of Black history and being able to tell stories about their experiences, what they've learned and how we can move forward in our future and still make sure that we're carving out space at our school,” Ellis said. 

The panel was also able to give advice to students who have "not had favorable" experiences at UNC. They encouraged students to make sure their voices are heard in the classroom. 

“And that's one of the biggest points that we took away from the panelists: that our Black history matters at UNC and programs such as KnOw Your Roots are helping to express how important Black history is,” Kayla Brown, the chapter's historian and parliamentarian, said.

Walking away from this event, Brown said participants felt empowered and inspired to continue making history both on and off of UNC's campus. 

Harrison said this event was essential to remind the campus community and campus leadership that Black history and Black experiences are important. She said students need to be aware of these historical events, especially since some of them happened not too long ago.

“I think it's just important to reflect on your history to encourage more history to be made. Because I think that, at least, even our class of 2023, we witnessed Black history that will be talked about for hopefully the next 10 to 20 years or so. So, just continuing to inspire Black students to still be great on our campus,” Ellis said. 

The Deltas hope to host the KnOw Your Roots event every year to continue educating the new students that reach UNC. 


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