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The Courier

College of DuPage's Student Newspaper

The Courier

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Persevering to Preserve African Culture: A Celebration of Black History Month on Campus

Performers and audiences unite to commemorate the start of this year’s Black History Month.
Rachel Wagner

Intricate drumming, energetic dances and messages of resilience took center stage at this year’s Black History Month Opening Celebration at COD’s Atrium in the SSC. Attendees clapped in organized patterns along to the drumming beats as performers from the African Dance & Music Institute danced to a game reminiscent of limbo while adorned in vibrant traditional African attire.

Dancers from the African Dance & Music Institute perform. (Rachel Wagner)

David Swope, manager of Student Diversity and Inclusion, organized and co-hosted the event. He said he wishes to distinguish the contributions of Black people and their culture to American society that are often overlooked.

“Because of the nature of how we have been taught, for centuries aspects of American history that include Black people have been sorely left out,” he affirmed. “So the importance of Black History Month is to bring some of that relevancy and the truth of the Black culture’s impact to American society, its development, its nationhood, its identification, its power as a leading nation in the world. All of that has something to do with Black culture in America.”

Sean Sacramento, a marketing major at College of DuPage, performed in the Chamber Choir during the start of the event. He remained for the rest of the event, allowing him to learn more about African culture and its richness.

“I learned a lot more about the sheer richness of African culture,” he said. “Different clothes have a lot of attention to detail [in their design], and I feel like this event in particular really put a lot of attention into that [through the performers’ outfit changes]. There’s a lot of creative outlets that you don’t really see anymore, now it’s just kind of washed out. I feel like having these types of people [demonstrate their culture] is a great [means of] preservation.”

The performers donned various outfits, some in-between changes, including dashikis, a long, colorful v-necked top originating from West Africa, and Ankara clothing adorned with detailed patterns and designs.

The Chamber Choir performed the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which is a prominent song in the context of equity and has historically been used as a rallying cry during the Civil Rights Movement.

Veronica Glennan, a graphic design major at College of DuPage, joined the event spontaneously after hearing the live music from afar, saying that she was taken aback by the performances.

“I was actually going to meet up with friends,” she recalled “But I realized that the event was going on, and I heard it down the halls, and I just stopped. I was mesmerized [by the music].”

Sacramento said the event exceeded his expectations in terms of engagement and excitement.

“This just brings me so much joy to watch,” he said referring to the energetic performances. “I came here, I was like, ‘Alright, this is gonna be something we’re gonna sit through a little bit performing and be done,’ but this is actually really cool.”

According to Swope, captivating guests through energetic interactive activities was exactly his intent.

“One of the things that I’m hoping [for] is I want today’s learners, both traditional and non-traditional in age, to be excited about their learning environment, to see College of DuPage as a place that gets it, that’s relevant,” Swope said. So you’re comfortable, but you’re energized. I’m hoping that times like this energize through dance from the community that was just coming together as people. From being able to just eat— because eating is this coming together of people— to the music, to the students who gave the presentation, all of it just seemed to evolve this really positive energy around a cool environment of teaching and learning. So I’m hoping that will spark us and keep us going [in willing to learn more] from one month to the next month and so on.”

Drummers from the African Dance & Music Institute perform. (Rachel Wagner)

Glennan found that the brief speech presented by one of the drummers from the African Dance & Music Institute that detailed the importance of cultural preservation resonated with her deeply.

“I did really appreciate the part when they talked about oppression,” she said. “It was like, ‘We’re bringing back this culture, and we want to represent this culture because for so many years, it was taken away from us. We weren’t able to say our name. We didn’t know our languages, we didn’t know what food we ate.’ That really was such an impactful thing that they said, and I was like, ‘Wow, that really hits hard.’ This is why they deserve so much [better], because everything’s been taken away from them.”

Swope encourages people to possess the courage to confront truths regarding their homeland that may be uncomfortable and to hold open-minded conversations with those different from them as a way of commemorating Black History beyond February, as well as learning about other diverse groups in general.

“A lot of people don’t have the courage to actually learn about where they live. We can start by having conversations with people different than us. The intention is so that when you and I talk, maybe I’ll learn a little bit more about you and your background and your perspectives as you care to share with me, and then you can do so with me.”

Students are invited to attend “The Pros and Cons of Black History Open Lunch and Learn Sessions in the Hub!” on Tuesday, February 13, from 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM as a means of discussing and gaining a better understanding of Black History Month.

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