Black community unites in a ‘Ritual’

Shruti Kumar

Despite the comical nature of the skit “Dos and Don’ts,” the actors expressed more serious sentiments as they demonstrated to freshmen how to deal with daily situations on campus.

With comments ranging from “Do not walk down the street, look someone in the eye and not speak” to “Do not be late to class, sit in the front and fall asleep,” the 31st annual performance of the African-American Theatre Ensemble’s “The Ritual” presented new students with a range of perspectives as they welcomed them to the Northwestern community through song, dance and candid advice.

“(The performance) introduces the freshmen to student life and showcases the talents of the incoming freshman class and upperclassmen,” said Communication senior Le’ Jamiel Goodall, the event’s director. “It is a variety show in some ways.”

Beginning with a prayer to bring glory to all the performers and attendees, the show, which packed the Louis Room in Norris University Center, evolved into a program including both lighthearted skits and dance to more serious performances rooted in NU’s black history and tradition.

Members of Nayo danced to Nelly’s “Hot in Herre,” and the audience listened in pin-drop silence as Communication freshman Gayl Braddix performed a moving monologue, “The Word,” about the effect of racist language on a black woman.

An essential part of the event almost every year is the re-enactment of the Bursar’s Office takeover that occurred May 3, 1968. The play depicts how 14 black students marched into the Bursar’s Office, locked down windows and doors, and were then joined by 105 other black students on campus. At that time, black students were not allowed to live on campus, did not have their own African-American studies program and did not have their own student affairs division.

“A group of students who got together decided that the only way to get what they wanted was to shut down the university so that they listened to their demands,” Goodall said.

The takeover, which lasted 38 hours, received major media coverage and sparked policy changes at NU. Black students gained a division of African-American student affairs, an African-American studies program and academic resources including a summer academic workshop.

The show ends every year with a ritual that brings together upperclassmen and new students by discussing positive experiences at NU.

“The essential part of the event is the re-enactment of the ritual,” said Mike Blake, the show’s co-producer and a Medill junior.

As part of the ritual, everyone in the room formed a large circle. Graduating seniors stood in the middle, saying their farewells and giving advice to the freshmen. Several seniors shed tears while they talked about friendships, studies and faith in God.

As part of the ritual, everyone also was given a chain link . Students keep their links each year and eventually form a complete chain.

“Within the African-American community everyone is important, and that is what the link for each chain represents,” Goodall said.

Performers thought the audience responded positively to the event.

“People put some time and effort into the various performances and everyone was well-received,” said participant Patrick Henry, a Weinberg junior. “It is another sign of things coming together on campus, sharing our gifts and talents.”

And at least one freshman grew closer to the NU community through the event.

“I felt like I was actually going to this school,” Braddix said.