With the sounds of Black artists and the smells of traditional African food filling the air, Black Student Union met on a Saturday to celebrate their culture and uplift their community with a one-of-a-kind event.
On Nov. 19, Black Student Union (BSU) unveiled a year’s worth of work on their first annual Night of Excellence. Centered around identity and acceptance, the event spotlighted Black-owned organizations and businesses.
The event began with opening statements from Favour Maduagwu, president of BSU, emphasizing the importance of the event in uplifting the Black community and celebrating Black excellence at UP and in the greater Portland area.
There were panels by the Black-owned business bproud and the nonprofit African Family Holistic Health Organization. The event also included presentations by Womxn of Color and Olivia Grier, BSU co-event coordinator. The event concluded with a fashion show featuring UP student Isaac Ajayi’s designs from Headache and kahoot trivia games on Black culture.
Founded by cousins Jospin Mugisha and Japhety Ngabireyimana, bproud is a clothing brand that highlights individuality and encourages people to be proud of what makes them unique.
“Society tends to put these pressures on you [with] what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable,” Mugisha said. A lot of times, we tend to be ashamed of the things that we should be proud of. And so that is why we started the project.”
Mugisha and Ngabireyimana shared their stories as immigrants from Tanzania and the circumstances that brought them to America. They also reflected on the culture shock they experienced assimilating while eventually learning to appreciate their differences.
“The reason we're here today is because we wanted to share our story with you guys,” Mugisha said. “We're proud of our story and our purpose is to inspire you guys to be proud.”
African Family Holistic Health Organization
Riziki Mmuhongelwa and Amarachi Duru represented the African Family Holistic Health Organization. The organization was founded by a community health worker in 2014 who noticed a disparity in the health needs of the Swahili-speaking community in Portland.
“We started with that mindset of centering community and healing,” Duru said. “... and the idea that our current health system doesn't really touch upon the social determinants of health and the disparities that the African community here face.”
Their mission is “To empower, educate, train and connect African families to essential programs and resources that make them physically, mentally, emotionally and financially healthy,” according to their website.
Womxn of Color
Womxn of Color (WOC) board members Vanessa Gonzalez, Cindy Garibay and Karel Farfan shared what their identities mean to them during their presentation. They each shared personal experiences existing in predominantly white spaces and what being a woman of color meant to them.
“For me, being a woman of color is just pushing all of that negativity aside and just really taking the time to feel empowered in my identity, to be proud of where I come from,” Garibay said. “I'm not ashamed of it and I never have been.”
“Ultimately, being a woman of color to me means taking up space and making sure that I'm always heard and realizing that I'm worthy of every good thing that comes into my life,” Farfan said.
Their vision is to empower women of color and the Black community by creating inclusive and supportive spaces for people to come together in celebration.
Olivia Grier shared the work of popular Black youtubers and the importance of Black influencers on social media in her presentation “Young Black Youtubers Everyone Should Know.”
“I think it's important for people to have entertainment that they can look up to who sometimes bring up important issues,” Grier said.
Following these presentations was a fashion show for Headache, a clothing brand founded by UP student Isaac Ajayi. Featuring all hand-drawn designs, Headache was inspired by Ajayi’s own experience with headaches and his outlet of drawing.
“As more headaches came, I continued to draw and develop my skills,” Ajayi wrote in a statement read by Grier. “With pain as a motivator, I decided to share my art clothing. This is Headache, the universal experience.”
Ending with trivia games for the audience to test their knowledge of Black culture, BSU’s Night of Excellence came to a close.
BSU plans to make their Night of Excellence an annual event to maximize its impact on the UP community and create more opportunities to honor Black culture and the African diaspora.
“It means so much to be able to show our diversity and just that Black Student Union exists at University of Portland,” Maduagwu said. “It's just an amazing opportunity to also showcase other Black businesses.”
Chiara Profenna is the DEI editor of The Beacon. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.