February is Black History Month, and AFRO Hamwe has plans to engage Gordon students in the celebration of Black history, community, and culture. Activities range from fun events like the AFRO Party and Fashion Show to more educational or reflective events such as Lift Every Voice and Sing: Evolution of Music.
AFRO Hamwe joined together once again on February 7th for an alumni panel. The event featured five Gordon Alumni: Orlane Destin (’21), Nigesca Maxime (’19), Gbolahan Fajolu (’20), Sheneika Fareus (’21), and Anthony Katoto (’19). Current AFRO Hamwe leaders Sary Legerme and Roddy Ngolominigi served as moderators for the event.
The moderators began with the question “What does Black History Month mean to you?” The resounding answer was that BHM should be a time of celebration of Black people, culture, and community.
Sheneika Fareus, former Student Body president of GCSA, reminded listeners that slavery is not Black history; rather, it is the history of the colonizer. Instead, BHM is a time of celebrating Black Joy. She said it is a time for her to be “Blackity-Black-Black,” but that this celebration extends to every other month as well.
Gbolahan Fajolu, former President of AFRO Hamwe added that for him BHM is a time to remember those who have broken barriers in the past. He noted the importance of “seeing someone who looks like you” break down barriers as inspiration to do the same.
Nigesca Maxime and Orlane Destin both acknowledged the way that Blackness permeates every aspect of society and that there is a whole lot that would not exist without Black people.
When asked what Black historical figure had most impacted their lives, panelists provided a wide array of responses, From Martin Luther King Jr. as a countercultural “extremist for the cause of justice” to Kobe Bryant as a master of his craft who brought love and joy to his fans, regardless of whether or not they look like him. Panelists also provided insight on lesser-known historical figures, such as Patrice Lumumba, first prime minister of the Congo, Kenneth and Mamie Clark, psychologists advanced their field by studying the identity formation of Black children, and Suzanne Sanité Bélair, a fearless woman who fought for Haitian independence.
Panelists also shared about the ways in which their time at Gordon shaped their identity and helped them embrace or celebrate Black culture. Sheneika Fareus expressed her experience of culture shock in arriving at Gordon as a predominantly white space. She told a story of being told “I’ve never met a colored before” during her freshman year. Yet she also shared that her time at Gordon was a time how learning to be Black woman and to be proud of it. She said, “I will not let anyone interrupt that for me.”
Other panelists shared in the struggle of feeling like they needed to work harder to “fit in.” Anthony Katoto felt that Black students often faced backlash when they attempted to gather and create community. He invoked the audience, “If you want a safe space, create a safe space; if you want a community, create a community”; thus stressing the importance of clubs like AFRO Hamwe.
Orlane Destin shared the importance of her undergrad years as a time of undoing the survival tactics she had developed in high school and instead learning to become “the full me,” even if it makes other people uncomfortable. Nigesca added, “Why be afraid?”
Q&A was opened to the audience, and one student asked the panelists about their experiences with microaggressions at or beyond Gordon. The panelists responded that, unfortunately, microaggressions do happen and will continue to happen, regardless of setting. But they also added the encouragement to call people out for their harmful actions. Destin said, “we’ve been silent for too long” and that it is possible to “call people out in love.” Katoto added the advice to never stay quiet.
The session closed with the question: “What encouragement would you give to the AFRO students at Gordon?”
Destin reminded students that the race they are running is ongoing and is the work of many people supporting each other over time. She said “don’t get comfortable” because we’ve got a long way to go, but to also “rejoice in how far we’ve come…. It’s okay that the work is just beginning … stay encouraged and alert.”
Sheneika Fareus agreed with these sentiments, but she also had an appeal for the administrators in the room. She acknowledged that celebrating Black history on campus is good, but that tangible change is also necessary. She invoked the administration to “pay your students,” particularly the MIO club leaders who are often extremely burned out from the amount of sacrifice they make for their communities and for future students.