Leo O’Ryan, Contributor
Last Saturday, we had a rare 29th day of Black History Month (BHM). For the first time in recent memory, the Pan-Afrikan Student Union (PASU) held a BHM Showcase to end the month on a high note.
As one entered Hoversten Chapel that day, one was greeted by large scale One Day in May posters everywhere as well as ECHO articles that documented the history of One Day in May.
Current PASU President Jada Lewis greeted us with a very necessary land acknowledgement as well as an acknowledgement of this Black space we had, and that we don’t always have it.
A running theme of this event was that as much as it was for Pan-Afrikan students, Alumni & the wider Augsburg community, who made their impact felt. This started with poet Joe Davis, who gave a great uplifting, opening poem that felt like an extension of Lewis’s opening thoughts. Traiveon Dunlap also led a beautiful rendition of “Lift Every Voice & Sing.”
Another recurring instance in the program was the showing of short videos. This began with Google’s recent BHM commercial, which celebrated some of the most searched Black icons. The next video shown was Louis Farrakhan schooling seasoned interviewer Mike Wallace on why America shouldn’t be the moral authority of the world with all injustices Black folks in this country have faced, which most people in the crowd both laughed at and felt affirmed by.
Lewis’s cousin, Jelicia, didn’t just sing, she SANG! Jelicia sang for “Black brothas” and performed a moving rendition of Destiny Child’s “Stand Up For Love.”
Janelle Howard performed one of the few dance performances of the night, dancing to Ultralight Beam (by Kanye West, Chance the Rapper, Kelly Price & many more) in which she brought the lyrics and the production to life even more than the already spectacular song. She made us feel every drum beat and had the stage presence of someone twice her age.
Elder Vusumuzi Zulu told a story through the metaphor of jungle animals. It was funny, it was informative, and it somehow had a chorus. The chorus brought some great crowd interaction and was “signifying monkey stay up in yo tree cause you always signifying & lying & you better not monkey with me.” As the story unfolded, it was revealed to mean that rumors are an unnecessary evil.
We then received some words from James Baldwin in 1963 – “The future of the negro in this country is precisely as bright or as dark as the future of the country. It is entirely up to the American people whether or not they’re going to try and find out in their own hearts why it was necessary to have a nigger in the first place.”
Next, Hana Dinku, Director of the Pan-Afrikan Center, spoke about One Day in May. She spoke of the student protests that followed Dr. Martin Luther King’s assasination in 1968, which led to the creation of the University of Minnesota’s African American Studies department; she also spoke of what happened on our own campus at the time. One Day in May refers to a day of action that took place at Augsburg in which community leaders were able to come in and speak. This event led to the formation of the Black Student Union (now the Pan-Afrikan Student Union). The BSU was the first of any of the multicultural student organizations, eventually leading to the formation of Multicultural Student Services, which operates in Oyate Commons today.
This Black History Month showcase was both rooted in the past through former Black leaders and alumni and in our future through our Black students performing their truth. The current board did a phenomenal job of organizing this, and I encourage all to show up to PASU’s future events.