Black student voices showcased at Vertigo’s Lift Ev’ry Voice


Jack Lido/The Daily Northwestern

Ike Ihemeson performs an original song at Lift Ev’ry Voice. The Vertigo Productions event focused on showcasing black student work to commemorate MLK’s legacy.

Keerti Gopal, Reporter

Fifty years after the Bursar’s Office takeover — a 38-hour student-led protest demanding that Northwestern provide more resources for black students — Communication senior Kori Alston said he wanted to honor that legacy by creating a platform for NU’s black students to be heard.

“When there is so little black representation on campus, the minute you put one person on stage they are forced to represent the entirety of black Northwestern students,” said Alston, development director of Vertigo Productions. “I wanted to create an event where we can have all of these diverse black voices on stage doing their thing at the same time, and people could just witness.”

On Friday, over 60 people gathered in McCormick Auditorium for Lift Ev’ry Voice, an event hosted by Vertigo Productions as part of the MLK Arts Festival, to fulfill that vision and showcase black students’ voices.

The event began with the trailer for “The Takeover: The Revolution of the Black Experience at Northwestern University” — an in-progress film about the 1968 Bursar’s Office takeover and its legacy at NU — followed by a student presentation about the protest’s history. Then came a series of performances: two students presented spoken-word poetry, and one sang an original song with a friend. The show also featured a guest performance from Chicago rapper Add-2 and ended with a sing-along rendition of “Lift Ev’ry Voice,” led by the Northwestern Community Ensemble.

First-year McCormick graduate student Eden Aklile said she came to the event as a new student hoping to get more involved with NU’s black community.

“It was just breathtaking to know that people are here doing that kind of work,” Aklile said, adding that she was impressed by the caliber of students’ pieces.

Ike Ihemeson sang an original song he said was inspired by his Christian faith.

“With my eyes looking up to the hills, help is coming all the way,” the Bienen junior sang, accompanied by acoustic guitar. “My brother, I promise we will make it through another day.”

The need for continued progress was a recurring theme of the night. Communication sophomore Kimani Isaac, who performed spoken word at the event, said that though the NU administration is making an effort to help black students, the University still struggles with systemic barriers to accessibility.

“I think we are dealing with a lot of really old and really angry policies … (but) it’s really refreshing to see a school and an administration that actually tries to listen,” Isaac told The Daily. “(NU) doesn’t always get it right for sure, but it definitely tries to listen and is actively trying to overcome those legacies.”

The show was just one component of the MLK Arts Festival, three days of programming by student theater board Vertigo Productions that included multiple readings of student-written plays and a discussion on structural inequality in Chicago. Vertigo Productions is the only student theater board at NU that solely produces original undergraduate work, Alston said, adding that the MLK Arts Festival was about celebrating the creations of students.

He added that he hoped white audience members in particular could take the opportunity to step back and simply listen.

“To sit there and be truly not heard for a while, and to listen for that long, I think there’s something to learn there,” Alston said. “But even more than that, I want people to just appreciate the depth and diversity of black voices that we have on campus and to work to start celebrating those voices.”

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