Celebrate Black elegance at Black Student Union’s second annual Night of Excellence

By Camille Kuroiwa-Lewis | February 13, 2024 1:12pm
The Night of Excellence will be held in the Quiet Side of the Commons, with doors opening at 5 p.m and the event beginning at 7 p.m.
Media Credit: Kimberly Cortez / The Beacon

On any given weekday, the sounds of markers on whiteboards and students laughing can be heard throughout Clark Library. And, on one afternoon in late January, juniors Favour Maduagwu and Rachael Kariuki are adding to Clark’s lively energy. They are at the library to get a message across: that Black Student Union’s (BSU) Night of Excellence is happening again on Feb. 17.

The Night of Excellence will be held in the Quiet Side of the Commons, with doors opening at 5 p.m and the event beginning at 7 p.m. Local Black-owned businesses will remain central to the event. This year, BSU is also introducing a dance and black-tie theme, with the hope of reaching an entirely new level of student engagement with Black excellence.

Maduagwu, BSU’s president, wanted news of this year’s Night of Excellence to reach students primarily through word of mouth. She and Kariuki took to the library to talk firsthand with their peers. 

“Social media doesn’t really do as much as we wish it does,” Maduagwu said. “Although people would see the post, some might not interact with it or wouldn’t read it fully.”

Kariuki also noticed that people gravitated more towards Night of Excellence when they could see her passion for the event. Her passion is one fostered by the growing sense that events like Night of Excellence might make Black students feel more at home while attending a predominantly white institution (PWI).

“Especially being at a PWI, it’s important to have those events to see ... ‘Oh, my culture is here!’ and to experience it,” Kariuki said.

In addition to changing their marketing strategy, Night of Excellence will also be held in a larger venue than last year’s. Since last year, organizers have found that to get the most out of an event like Night of Excellence, preparation must begin earlier in the school year to leave enough time for making reservations, finding performers and purchasing food. 

This time around, planning started in Aug. 2023.

Photo courtesy of Favor Maduagwu.

“It’ll be a whole different program than last year’s,” Maduagwu said. “Last year, we really had to improvise a lot due to not having the space we wanted to have ... We won’t be doing games at the end of the night but there’s going to be at least an hour of a dance party [at the end].”

Night of Excellence will also feature dance acts from local collegiate dance groups. So far, Lewis and Clark’s African Student Association and BSU’s own dance team are set to perform, according to Maduagwu.

“We all love music,” Kariuki said. “It was something that we really wanted to incorporate, especially seeing other universities do it too. Other universities be doing Black excellence night or African appreciation night and there’s always a dance involved. We can’t do Black excellence without a dance.”

For Maduagwu, dance can also create an exciting atmosphere that invites students to experience a culture they may or may not be familiar with.

“We want to give it a wedding vibe,” Maduagwu said. “When you go to an African wedding, it’s beautiful, and then at the end you have this dance party where everybody is just letting it loose.”

Music will also be uplifted at Night of Excellence through singing performances from three students of the UP music department. 

Though a lot about the event has changed from last year, BSU wants to continue using Night of Excellence as an opportunity to highlight Black-owned businesses.

Some of the businesses confirmed for attendance include the Farmland Produce Distribution Project and Triple Afriq. Junior Isaac Ajayi's fashion brand, Headache, is also set to be featured again.

Ajayi, who is also a member of BSU, finds that Headache serves him as a creative outlet. Night of Excellence is one way for him to showcase his growing sense of creativity.  

“Headache is a way for me to keep creative juices still going and still flowing, make sure they’re not stale,” Ajayi said.

While Ajayi won’t be a part of this year’s fashion show, art and fashion will stay a focal point throughout the night. 

“We’re bringing back the fashion show,” Maduagwu said. “This time it's showcasing African prints, having people wear that and strut the stage. That’s one way of showcasing our culture through dressing.”

Night of Excellence is intended to remain annual so that students can look forward to an event which prioritizes Black experiences each year. Maduagwu also hopes that the event can lead more people to discover BSU.

“A lot of people didn’t even know that BSU existed,” Maduagwu said. “I know I didn’t when I was a freshman. So having an event like [Night of Excellence] makes people know that ‘that’s my culture, that’s the food I grew up eating,’ so that Black and African students can relate to that.”

Ajayi also adds that BSU is a strong space for students dedicated to exploring their Black culture on campus. 

“BSU on campus doesn’t have too much of a presence, but at the same time when I go to meetings, when I see the people that are on the board, I do see a lot of passion,” Ajayi said.

BSU’s first club meeting of the year is marked for Feb. 8 from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. in the Diversity Center for those looking to get more involved. While BSU hopes that Night of Excellence can help grow the club further, Maduagwu also emphasizes the excitement that an event like Night of Excellence can bring to the student body.

Photo Courtesy of Favour Maduagwu.

“Dress up. Be fancy for one day,” Maduagwu said. “As students, we don’t get to do that often. Getting dressed up, looking pretty, we can get decked up. We wanted to invite people to see that Black is also elegant.” 

Tickets are $5 for students and $7 for staff and the public. Purchases can be made through BSU’s Instagram and Engage pages.

Camille Kuroiwa-Lewis is a reporter for The Beacon. She can be reached at kuroiwal26@up.edu.