Bakari Sellers, political commentator and former South Carolina state representative, will visit Ohio State’s campus Tuesday for United Black World Month, an Ohio State tradition hosted annually by the Student Life Multicultural Center in collaboration with other organizations.
The purpose of recognizing February as Black History Month is to celebrate “the diasporic experience,” and this year’s theme is “Imagining Black Futures.”
Katherine Betts, intercultural specialist for African and African American initiatives, chairs the committee that conceptualizes the theme and works collaboratively across campus to find dynamic speakers each year.
As this year’s theme focuses on the future, Betts and her colleagues searched for a speaker who would discuss historical aspects of United Black World Month along with relevant and pressing issues facing the nation today as a whole.
“We — the committee — want people to imagine black futures, whatever that means for them in a space of being affirmed, a space of having a voice and a presence, and space in place to be great,” Betts said.
Sellers is a political analyst for CNN and practices law with the Strom Law Firm, LLC in Columbia, South Carolina. During his life, Sellers has acted as a political activist addressing issues ranging from education and poverty to preventing domestic violence and childhood obesity.
Sellers accomplished many of his feats at particularly young ages. He started his freshman year of high school at the age of 12 and his freshman year of college at 16. At 22, he made history by becoming the youngest member of South Carolina’s state legislature and the youngest African American official elected in the United States.
“I would ask myself the question, ‘If not now, then when?’ and, ‘If not me, then who?’ It didn’t matter what age I was,” Sellers said. “I wanted to set forth the change in my community and push my culture forward.”
While Sellers has accomplished many feats early in his life, he hopes that others evaluate him for the lives he has positively affected rather than his personal successes.
“Oftentimes, I tell people that I don’t want to be considered a politician. I want to be considered a public servant,” Sellers said. “It’s all being an example first and foremost, but making sure that you push forward initiatives that promote freedom and democracy.”
The theme of the month is meant to reflect on the accomplishments of the past, while informing the community about how to move forward, and given Sellers’ knowledge of politics and law, Betts said he would be a great fit for this year’s theme.
Betts said that Sellers is relevant for students at Ohio State because he knows how to frame what is going on nationally and politically into an educational setting, and she hopes his insights leave people feeling refreshed about the current political climate.
“I hope people leave feeling like they’ve had a space to be authentic and to be affirmed as black people, as people of color, as people who bring together a lot of diverse differences because this program is not just for the black community but it’s for the university community,” Betts said.
She also said she wants to remind the community that all people are welcome to Sellers’ keynote speech and the other programs incorporated into United Black World Month. Betts hopes that the events will leave the community rejuvenated and inspired.
“I hope people will find this a space where they feel affirmed and celebrated in who they are,” Betts said. “For the black community, I hope that this is a place where we can be unapologetically black and all of the beauty that that brings.”
In regards to what he hopes for students to get out of his keynote address, Sellers said he wants students to dream big, and plans to tell them that next week during his speech.
“I hope they go out and want to change the world,” Sellers said. “I’ll meet them at the top.”
Sellers will give the keynote address at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday in the Ohio Union Performance Hall.