Valparaiso University continued its celebration of Black History Month on Sunday, Feb. 19, with an annual dinner. The event was sponsored by the Black Student Organization and its theme was “Celebration of Gospel.” Highlights included a video tribute to gospel greats, musical and praise dance performances, and a keynote address by Brytish Thomas.

“I do count this as an honor and a privilege, to stand here and talk about the music which I love so dearly – gospel music,” said Thomas. “I am excited about the fact that we are here today, celebrating gospel music and supporting the fact that gospel music is an American art form that has a detailed history and is a respectable and viable genre of American music.”

Valparaiso University President Mark A. Heckler opened the evening by giving a brief history of Black History Month and sharing his own experiences with diversity. Heckler told the audience that he had grown up in a small, white community and did not interact with African Americans until he went away to college. Once there, he sought out opportunities to engage with people from different backgrounds.

“I just want to tell you personally the great joy and pleasure I had in college of learning to meet and interact with people who did not come from my background,” said Heckler. “The great joy and pleasure that they brought to me is one of the reasons why I am so passionate about diversity at this institution, and why I believe that it is so important for young people who come to Valparaiso to really know and come to appreciate the value that we all bring together, in all of the communities, and all the gifts that we bring together in community, because we can learn so much and grow so much from one another.”

After Heckler’s welcome, Thomas gave the audience a detailed history of gospel music. She began with the pre-Gospel era and traced roots back to African music and Negro spirituals, before moving on to the historic gospel era and contemporary gospel music.

“Gospel music is an American art form developed and nurtured by believers during worship,” said Thomas. “Gospel means “˜good news,’ and it was derived from its close connections to the gospel books in the New Testament. There are no style restrictions to the thematic content, yet the reference to God’s goodness and mercy is still there.”

Thomas told the audience that gospel music was not initially accepted, and the performing arts high school she attended was reluctant to embrace students’ desire to sing gospel music. That has begun to change, and many awards shows are now honoring gospel music as it spreads through American culture.

“People are becoming more aware of gospel music, including students and classrooms, and now it’s being performed on elite stages all over the world,” said Thomas. “Gospel music has become progressively popular and mainstream and offers listeners the opportunity to experience an exceptional genre that has deep roots in many African American Christian communities in the United States.”

For more information about the Black Student Organization, visit their web page at

About Valparaiso University
Valparaiso University is a comprehensive independent Lutheran university with more than 4,000 students on its campus located in Northwest Indiana, an hour from Chicago. Valpo is a community of purpose-driven, service-minded and ethical individuals who embrace the pursuit of truth with freedom, humility and compassion. Valpo has been identified as one of the top master’s-level institutions in the Midwest by U.S. News & World Report magazine for the past 22 years. Valparaiso University offers 110 undergraduate academic programs through the colleges of Arts and Sciences, Business Administration, Engineering and Nursing. Valpo also has a distinguished honors college, a School of Law and more than 40 degree and certificate programs in its Graduate School and Continuing Education Division. Valpo has been recognized for its commitment to outstanding teaching, preparing thoughtful leaders with strong cross-cultural skills and global awareness, and dedication to serving others.