Over 300 students of all backgrounds filled the Student Union Ballroom for the annual Black History Month Opening Ceremony Thursday night with keynote speaker Angela Rye.
Rye is a CNN political commentator, CEO of IMPACT Strategies and an attorney. Another one of her many hats includes running the board of the Congressional Black Caucus Institute. She is also well affiliated with many other celebrities, including the entire cast of “The Real” talk show on Fox, as she has been featured as a guest star there before. As Dr. Price mentioned, she is “the definition of black girl magic.”
Rye uses her platform to shine light on major issues within the system, with her strong and tenacious personality and impressive knowledge about the government and black history in general. The entire room of students and staff were awed at the facts she shared that she felt “we need to know in order to ‘resist’ and fight back during this time in our nation.”
She spoke to the audience about how it is so important to “stay woke,” meaning avoid falling for what the media depicts about our president and his actions. She told us that “he may seem like he’s doing something productive for the people, but there is nothing beneficial going on in that White House for minorities.”
Another one of her major points was about the well-known #BlackLivesMatter movement. Rye stated that “it is great to have a movement, to have our community speak out about the injustices inflicted upon us. However, we need to take our protesting and turn them into tangible actions. Let’s start focusing inward. Bank black, buy black and give black,” meaning to support black businesses and invest money in black-owned banks in order to uplift the community economically- “the most impactful aspect.”
The evening was accented with a looped slideshow that portrayed art, photography and written messages all relating to black history and civil rights across the nation. Some figures included in the montage were former president Barack Obama with his family in the Oval Office, Dr. King Jr. in one of his many speeches and Beyonce posing fiercely with her backup dancers at a concert. This was all being presented behind Rye, the AACC member, and performers throughout the entire event to represent the fierceness, strength, and success of the black community.
“The opening speakers had some really powerful words. Truly inspirational and influential. Their words were empowering yet encouraged unity as well,” said Kyrasia Pickett, a sixth-semester allied health sciences major.
One of the many performances included a women’s dance group Nubian Foxes, who organized their dance numbers with a mix of percussion heavy tracks that jumped around different styles such as pop, Latin and Caribbean. Not only did they perform, but the UConn Praise Dance also performed an elaborate and graceful number to John Legend and Common’s famous song, “Glory” from the movie Selma about the life of Martin Luther King Jr.
There were many other motivating speakers there, including Maman Cooper, a senior communications major, spoke of her visit to Birmingham, Alabama: a historically racially divided city visually evident with a mountain separating white and African-American residents. Due to the history of the area, there are sharp disparities between the two major communities.
Cooper then spoke of a minister she met named Michael. When this man was young, he came across a family that was in very poor shape, and was determined to help the people in need from that point forward.
The impact of the speaker on audience members was noticeable. Many audience members seemed moved by Michael’s message to fight for what you believe in and “get out of your comfort zone.”
Eighth-semester electrical engineering major, Ahmed Sayulleh, said, “The opening ceremony always showcases the wonderful black culture on campus and in our hearts.”
At the last segment of the event, everyone including those unable to sit in the overcrowded ballroom, were served free dinner provided with refreshments to end it on a strong, communal note, which started off with a prayer before serving time.
Central to many of the themes throughout the night was, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that,” from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This phrase was adapted for the ceremony and Black History Month as a whole under the social media hashtag, #BeTheLight. It was also encouraged by Rye to not just post #BeTheLight, but #OurBlackIsBeautiful to promote positive affirmations to the rest of the world.