A celebration of culture at the Black History Month Opening Ceremony

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Students, faculty, and special guests all gathered in the Student Union Ballroom to celebrate the beginning of Black History Month, hosted by the African American Cultural Center. Students and guests preformed poems, songs, and dances leading up to a speech presented by Dr. Joy DeGruy, the key note speaker for the night.  Photo by Erin Knapp/The Daily Campus

Students, faculty, and special guests all gathered in the Student Union Ballroom to celebrate the beginning of Black History Month, hosted by the African American Cultural Center. Students and guests preformed poems, songs, and dances leading up to a speech presented by Dr. Joy DeGruy, the key note speaker for the night. Photo by Erin Knapp/The Daily Campus

In times of both trouble and triumph, the support of a community is essential to improving the situation of those affected as well as to celebrate their well-earned accomplishments. The African-American Cultural Center (AACC) knows the importance of that sentiment, celebrating their 50th Anniversary as well as Black History Month in the wake of the racial incidents on campus last semester. The incidents were quickly followed by an incredible showing of students and faculty alike coming together to combat racial acts and discrimination on campus. Last night, UConn’s black community and allies were out in full force for the Black History Month Opening Ceremony, transforming the Student Union Ballroom into an area of love and appreciation for their heritage.  


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“I think what we do during Black History Month is really wonderful,” Guymara Manigat, a sixth-semester allied health sciences major, said. She serves as president of UConn’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). “The team at the AACC works so much…and I think the type of awareness that they’re trying to spread across campus to show the significance of colored people across the world and across history has been wonderful.” 

The opening ceremony was full of performances by student groups, remarks by faculty and religious blessings in honor of the community’s blend of culture, welcomed by Dr. Willena Kimpson Price, the AACC director and affiliate faculty of Africana Studies. The full schedule for the night was centered around the keynote speaker, Dr. Joy Degruy, who discussed her intellectually rich and raw book, “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing.” 

“The cultural center is so wonderful, and so for me, that’s what I try to promote, coming together and unity,” Degruy said. “What I think I want them to take away is the fact that first of all, the idea of being healed is inevitable, the idea of finding peace is inevitable, but it requires that we all participate and find a lane that we’re in and do whatever we need to do in those lanes…I want everyone to take away there’s something they can do where they are.” 

Degruy’s theoretical book incorporates the titular idea of “adaptive survival behaviors” in African American communities through the country and the Diaspora. She discusses how the black community can heal from the impacts of slavery through generations of families. 

“It’s such a formative conversation,” Lebert Lester III, a masters student in the counseling education program at NEAG, said. He had taken a class focused on Degruy’s work at Morehouse College. “She talked about how blackness is multidimensional, and we often don’t get to see that. People are often relegated to hip hop or sports, so to hear her talk about the entire Diaspora, like blackness here and blackness abroad was captivating.” 

Josianne Hamilton, a fourth-semester political science major, and Chanel Francis, a fourth-semester accounting and Spanish double major, were emcees for the night, introducing performances from Alpha Phi Alpha, Sigma Gamma Rho, Pauline Bautista, the UConn Voices of Freedom Gospel Choir, Iris Jordan and Apostle Rogers H. Sr. Representatives from other organizations, such as Dana Wilder from the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and Gary Jones from Hillel, were incorporated into the event to represent the AACC’s support and collaboration with and for other communities on campus. The AACC oversees a myriad of other related organizations for its members that were in attendance, such as the Black Muslim Association. 

Overall the intimacy, visible support of the community and Degruy’s discussion offered much insight for attendees. 

“I love the event as a whole because she really tried to share herself with us,” Lester said. “I think we forgot how hard vulnerability can be and how powerful it can be, to be willing to let people see your story.” 


Hollie Lao is a staff writer and the social media manager for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at hollianne.lao@uconn.edu.

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