Section: Arts

#BlackIs gallery stirs conversation on race, identity

#BlackIs gallery stirs conversation on race, identity

By Devon Musgrave-Johnson

 

Last Friday, the Black Student Union (BSU) transformed the Black Box Theater into a somber yet inspiring art gallery in celebration of Black History Month. The exhibit highlighted the achievements of members of the African diaspora community while also recognizing the plights faced by people of color in modern society.

The event consisted of photography by Maymuna Abdi ’18 as well as readings of famous and original works by multiple members of the Kenyon community, including Jasmine Wilson ’19, Marquis Johnson ’16 and Miriam Dean-Otting, professor of religious studies.

BSU, in conjunction with the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI), organized and curated the gallery. 

The event marked the four-year anniversary of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin’s death by a community watch officer, which sparked outrage across the country and generated a debate about racism.

“[This event] is a moment of remembrance and mourning, since it’s the anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s death,” Johnson said. “But at the same time, it is a moment of celebration as well, for not only American literary history, but black literary history as well.” Johnson chose to read a passage written by Langston Hughes.

The show featured 20 of Abdi’s portraits featuring Kenyon students holding hand-written signs containing the phrase “#BlackIs” followed by a description of what the word “black” meant to them. One student, Akasha Walker ’19, wrote, “#BlackIs a deep-rooted legacy.” Along with participating in the photo series, Walker attended the event and helped greet people at the door.

“It took me a long time to think of what I wanted to say,” Walker said. “It means a lot to me and it’s really cool to see what my friends and my peers think ‘black’ is.”

While Walker encouraged visitors of the gallery to walk around, enjoy refreshments and look at the many photographs posted around the theater, chairs were set up for those who wanted just to listen to readers.

Readers could either read work they had written or the work of others, as long as it tied into the theme of Black History Month. Anyone who wanted could come up and read, whether or not they were affiliated with the BSU.

While many people, including Johnson, chose to read the work of famous authors or historical figures such as Hughes and Frances Harper, Lanise Beavers ’18, BSU’s sergeant-at-arms, chose to read a poem she wrote, titled “I am.”

“I am unapologetically black,” Beavers read. “It’s in the way that I talk. It’s in the way that I walk. It’s in the way that I dance. And every chance, I will showcase to the world what what this beautiful beaming brilliant brown of my skin can achieve.”

Rim Yoseph ’16 was among the attendees who stayed for all the readings. She heard about the event through the BSU and from Johnson.

“Even though I didn’t read, it felt amazing to be here because some of the pieces I recognized and others I didn’t,” Yoseph said. “But overall I had this feeling of celebration of black achievements with everyone around me.”

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