Celebrating History, Building New Traditions

Tiarra Medley

By Tiarra MedleyThe Daily Northwestern

Northwestern students, alumni, families and Chicago-area community members came together Sunday at Norris University Center’s Louis Room for an evening of food and music: Harambee, “Let’s Pull Together,” NU’s first activity in celebration of Black History Month.

Event coordinators anticipated a crowd of about 200 and estimated actual turnout to be close to what was expected for the event’s second year.

“We’re looking to start a tradition,” said Weinberg sophomore Christina Ford, an African American Student Affairs intern. “It wasn’t as big a turnout, but it is a new event, so it takes time to build that.”

Harambee is the official beginning of Black History Month activities at NU.

“I wanted to kick off Black History Month with a bang,” said Shawna Cooper-Gibson, director of African American Student Affairs. “I kind of modeled it after Festival LatiNU, which kicks off Hispanic Heritage Month.”

Communication junior Adam Welton and Medill junior Todd Johnson emceed the event, providing comic relief between acts. The Proviso East High School Jazz Band opened the event, playing while guests talked over plates of food.

Weinberg freshman Joshua Williams and Medill junior Niema Jordan performed spoken word poetry, recounting the history of African Americans. A rap performance by SESP senior Andrew Davis II and Communication freshman Jordan Looney detailed the Civil Rights Movement from the points of view of both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.

NAYO Dance Ensemble stepped, clapped and swayed in the style of traditional African dance. All exhibitions followed the theme of this year’s Black History Month, “From Slavery to Freedom.”

“I loved performing,” said Music and Weinberg freshman Cameron Jones, who danced with NAYO and provided vocal accompaniment to Williams’ spoken word performance. “People in the community came together and learned about and celebrated each other’s talents.”

New this year, two students were presented with the Gardner-Exum scholarship, an award that recognizes African American students for academic excellence, student involvement and community service. Weinberg junior Julian Hill and McCormick junior Tim Downing won the scholarships.

“It’s just so great to be held in such an honorable position,” Downing said as he accepted the scholarship.

Nate Simpson, a graduate assistant in the Office of African American Student Affairs, was the event’s main organizer.

“I know a lot of students are all over campus,” said Simpson. “It’s good bringing people together in one location and getting us ready to celebrate this month.”

For those attending for the first time, they found this year’s Harambee celebration to be enjoyable.

“As a freshman, I liked it,” said Jones. “I just wish there was a bigger crowd.”

Event organizers view the turnout in a different light.

“This is my first year at NU, but from what I have been told, so far, this year’s celebration was better than last,” Simpson said. “There’s no food left over this year. I take that to be a good sign.”

Reach Tiarra Medley at [email protected]