February. It’s the shortest month of the year, though it always seems to be full of activity. And, it’s a leap year, meaning you have one whole extra day to get out there and do things in C-U. At its center is Valentine’s Day, which you may or may not observe, but my offerings this month will be focused elsewhere. In a recent editorial, we encouraged (maybe demanded) that you seize the new year and new decade and make the most of your life here in C-U. Perhaps these experiences are a starting point for you.

Be Worldly

Image: Two rows of people playing a variety of instruments: saxophone, trombone, trumpet, clarinet, drums. There is a Brazilian flag hanging from the ceiling, and colorful murals on the walls behind them. Photo from Luso-Brazilian Student Assocation Facebook page.Image: Two rows of people playing a variety of instruments: saxophone, trombone, trumpet, clarinet, drums. There is a Brazilian flag hanging from the ceiling, and colorful murals on the walls behind them. Photo from Luso-Brazilian Student Assocation Facebook page.

The University of Illinois boasts a large number of student organizations that not only provide a community for students from a variety of backgrounds, but that offer a connection point for others to learn about the richness of cultures that surround them. Here are couple of connection opportunities happening this month.

Brazilian Carnaval, Latzer Hall at the University YMCA, February 22nd, 4 to 7 p.m.

The Luso-Brazilian Association and Lemann Center for Brazilian Studies are hosting the annual Brazilian Carnaval. You can expect live music and delicious food. Isn’t the food always a good reason to try something new? This event is not just for students, but is open to all in the community. And it’s free!

Discover India, Foellinger Auditorium, February 29th, 5 to 8 p.m.

The Indian Graduate Students’ Association has two major cultural events each year (as well as many smaller ones): Diwali on the Quad in the fall, and Discover India in the spring. The latter is happening at the end of February at Foellinger Auditorium and it is also free to attend. The lobby will have exhibits highlighting the diverse cultural traditions in India, then settle into the auditorium for music, dance, and theater performances. If you stick around after the show, you can join in some Bollywood style dancing. 

Honor Black History Month

Image: A man is seated at a piano, playing and singing into a microphone. He is wearing a black shirt, black pants, and black shoes. Image from Parkland College Facebook page.Image: A man is seated at a piano, playing and singing into a microphone. He is wearing a black shirt, black pants, and black shoes. Image from Parkland College Facebook page.

Take advantage of the added opportunities to learn about black history and issues facing black Americans today. Of course this is not an excuse to ignore opportunities to do so during other months of the year. White people, let’s take a back seat and listen and reexamine our thoughts and practices. Want to increase your support of organizations and business run and owned by black community members? It’s a great time to check out Buy Black Chambana if you haven’t yet done so. 

The Black Experience at Parkland College, all month long

Parkland really invests in Black History Month each year, with a varied schedule of programming. You can read our deep dive into it from last year. Though some of their events are very much oriented towards students, as they should be, there are many options for the public to engage. They are generally during the day, but it seems like a great lunch break opportunity. Grab some food at Betsy’s Bistro, then take in a discussion on African-Americans in the film industry, genetic testing and cultural identity, Nigerian pop culture influence, or listen to student spoken word performances. You can find the full schedule here

Pushout Film Screening and Townhall, Centennial High School, February 10th, doors open at 5:30 p.m.

Cessily Thomas formed the Black Teachers’ Alliance here in C-U to provide a support system for black teachers in the schools. You can read more about that in our interview with her from earlier this week. The alliance is hosting a screening of the film Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in School next week at Centennial High School. The documentary, which is based on a book of the same name, explores the disparities and discrimination faced by black girls in school. A townhall will follow the film. The event is free, but space is limited. You can reserve a spot here

Do your civic duty

Image: Four judge candidates are seated at the front of city council chambers, each behind a thin black microphone. There are two women and two men. They are flanked by the American flag and Illinois flag. Photo by Ben Theobald.

Primary season has begun (seriously, WTF Iowa), and though election day in Illinois is still over a month away, it’s not too early to prepare. In fact, early voting opens today, February 6th, in locations throughout Champaign County, and vote by mail ballots are available upon request. You can find out more about both of those things here. But before you cast your ballot, please take a little time to learn about the people who are running. Of course the presidential primary is important, dear God is it ever, but there are also primary challenges in IL-13 and IL-15, as well as numerous county level positions that are up for grabs, and there’s a lot of differences between the candidates. 

A good place to start is the Champaign County Voters Alliance website. They send out questions to all candidates that have the potential to be on your ballot, and you can read their responses here. If you have a bit more time, and aren’t afraid to go down a bit of a rabbit hole, check out Cheat Sheet of Champaign County. This blog digs in deep to county issues, candidates for county offices, and the like, and details some of the intra-party politics that the rest of us just can’t keep up on. Here’s a great example

Last week, the League of Women Voters hosted a forum where candidates for circuit clerk, circuit judge, and County Board 8 spoke. You can find video of that here

On February 10th, there will be a forum featuring candidates for IL-13, and County Board 6 and 10 (County Board 9 was originally included, but primary candidate Cynthia Fears has opted out). It's at the Champaign City Council Chambers, and doors will open at 6:30 p.m.

Keep an eye on the Culture section for articles discussing upcoming primary races. Smile Politely doesn’t really get into the business of endorsing, but we do want to make sure you have information about candidates and races. And next month, I'll yell about voting.

Top image: Six female dancers are on a stage, wearing black leggings and long sleeve shirts underneath orange and gold dresses. Photo from Indian Graduate Student Association website.