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The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Black Heritage Celebration to celebrate Black achievements, diversity

Jennifer Igbonoba | Staff Photographer
Students attend the Black Heritage Celebration’s kickoff keynote from social media influencer Lynae Vanee.

Student organizations will celebrate the achievements of the Black community and the diversity of the Black diaspora with programming during Black History Month.

This year’s Black Heritage Celebration, titled “For Us, By Us: Celebrating Our Culture,” launched Thursday with 28 events hosted by various organizations throughout February, including a dance class and an arts and crafts session focused on Black idols. Student leaders said the month’s programming will honor the contributions individuals have made to Black history and culture instead of focusing on the trauma the community has historically endured.

BHC Co-chair Milynda Armstrong-Stewart said the BHC executive board wanted to embrace celebration during Black History Month instead of centering on the hardships the Black community has faced in the past and present, adding that organizations could decide if they wanted to focus more on celebration or history. She added that the executive board works with the Black Student Union executive board and advisor E’Quince Smith and received support from the Multicultural Student Services Center.

“The reason that we wanted to make it fun is because ultimately all the events that we do they’re for us,” Stewart said. “As a Black community, we understand and know all the struggles that we’ve had, so we wanted to make the month fun for us and to enjoy our culture and history rather than focusing on trauma.”

Social media influencer Lynae Vanee kicked off the month’s programming with a keynote event where she discussed Black representation in entertainment. Vanee is known for her social media series “Parking Lot Pimpin” where she talks about political and cultural issues affecting the Black community from a parking lot.

Stewart said the BHC’s executive board compiled a short list of potential speakers before narrowing down candidates based on who best fit the theme and their budget. The group chose Vanee because of the content she talks about.

“She’s young, she’s on social media, taking advantage of that type of platform, so we felt like she really appealed to a younger, Black audience,” Stewart said.

BHC Co-chair Molayo Ifebajo said the theme was inspired by Shark Tank Co-host Daymond John’s hip-hop clothing brand FUBU, short for the name “For Us, By Us” and wanted it to be focused on “owning our own celebration.”

Along with organizations, BHC will also host several events throughout the month including a service day to clean Garfield Park near Navy Yard and Capitol Hill, a karaoke night, their annual Soul Revue, a showcase of Black talent, and Finale, where students can connect and celebrate the month.

Senior Rinella Casseus, the event director for GW Haiti, said this year is the first time the organization will be hosting an event for BHC. She added that the organization wanted to showcase the beauty and history of Haiti, the first free Black republic after the Haitian Revolution.

“We got taken from our native countries and brought here and had no choice but to form our own cultures, whether it’s in America, in Latin America or wherever other parts that we were taken from our original places,” Casseus said. “That’s why we think it’s really important for it to be acknowledged.” 

Deseree Chacha, the president of the African Students Association, said this year’s theme presents an opportunity for Black people to celebrate their culture in their own way and showcase the parts of their heritage they value the most during Black History Month. She said there is a large Black diaspora on GW’s campus, which makes celebrating and supporting Black voices more impactful. 

“We are celebrating our culture, but in our means, in our way,” Chacha said. “A lot of times Black culture can be exploited and taken for granted, and voiced and advertised in a way that does not consult people from the diaspora or Black people in general.”

Brianna Taylor, a senior and the president of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., said her organization will host an event titled “Our Fashion, Our Fly” on Feb. 13, which will feature a presentation of different generations of Black fashion. She added that attendees are encouraged to show up dressed in their favorite era of Black fashion.

“We wanted to shed a light on the history of Black fashion trends, and how Black fashion has changed over the years, what makes a trend in the Black community, how trends have changed and what Black figures in fashion have really made a statement in the community,” Taylor said.

Taylor said this is the sorority’s first year since she’s been a member not hosting their annual “Black Love” event for BHC, where attendees engaged in conversations about romantic and platonic Black relationships. She added that the sorority decided to plan a new event this year because the organization has never discussed what fashion means to the Black community.

Taylor said the change in fashion trends correlates with the growth in Black people’s freedom and individuality over the years, as suits and style cohesion in the early 1900s morphed into baggy jeans and shirts at the tail end of the century.

“Fashion is not just a means of the clothes that you wear, especially in the Black community,” Taylor said. “Fashion has become such a staple of resistance with everything from your hair to sneakers versus heels and things like that.”

Senior Amanda Kikonyogo, the president of the Black Girl Mentorship Program, said the organization is hosting an event highlighting Black icons and inventions Feb. 29. She said attendees will participate in a competition to recreate Black inventions and icons using arts and crafts as well as an awards ceremony where attendees can present their work and share the stories behind their craft.

“It’s a great way to inspire other people to sort of look into why this person might think this is a really great mentor or someone to look up to in the limelight,” Kikonyogo said.

Kikonyogo said BHC is an opportunity for different Black communities and voices across campus to come together and attend each other’s events. She said showcasing Blackness should be carried out beyond Black History Month to create safe spaces to celebrate their achievements.

“It really brings us together to attend each other’s events and have a monthlong of consistent programming where we’re really sort of supporting each other, reflecting and looking forward to the Black community and what we can do and the great things that we can accomplish,” Kikonyogo said.

Fiona Bork contributed reporting.

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