One Continent Many Stories: ACS celebrates diversity of African culture by blending, combining artistic mediums of fashion, dance, and poetry in campus-wide event

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Saturday Oct. 5, the African Cultural Society of the College of William and Mary held their 14th annual IREP Cultural Showcase in Commonwealth Auditorium at 7 p.m. The showcase was part of ACS’s IREP Africa Weekend, which included Dinner and Dialogue Friday and brunch on the Crim Dell Meadow Saturday morning.This year, the weekend was titled “The Journey of the Diaspora.”

Saturday night’s showcase consisted of several different performances, all unified by the show’s theme of the African Diaspora.

Jarice Mason II ’20 and Keyyatta Bonds ’20 hosted the show, introducing acts, telling jokes and keeping the crowd engaged throughout.

The showcase began with a fashion show titled “African Kings and Queens,” in which members of ACS modeled traditional clothing from various African cultures. The fashion show also included an exhibition of clothing from Stellar, a clothing line founded by Estelle Eyob ’22.

“I saw our cultural wear was being appropriated by high-end brands like Urban Outfitters and on the runway you would see it being taken and being reinvented,” Eyob said. “And the way it was being reinvented I felt kind of mocked my own culture, and it was just ugly.”

Eyob decided to start her own fashion line that would incorporate Eritrean design with streetwear.

“My fashion line is not only for Africans, only for Ethiopians or only for Eritreans, my clothing wear is for everybody,” Eyob said. “I really want everyone to embrace my culture.”

The fashion show was followed by a performance from the College’s Habesha Dance Team. The performance featured members dancing traditional dances, often interlaced with small narratives told wordlessly through movement.

The next segment of the show, entitled “The First Generations of Bondage,” was introduced by a prerecorded audio explanation of the atrocities of transatlantic slavery and its role in building European and American society. The interlude was followed by a performance from the campus acapella team Flow.

The mood shifted to a more upbeat tone with a performance by Liberty University’s ASAD Dance Team, who did a modern hip-hop routine interwoven with Gospel-style singing.

The showcase also included a video about ACS’s philanthropy project for this year, Zana Africa, which is a charity that provides menstrual products and better sex education for girls in Kenya. ACS Philanthropy Chair Nhuami Alemu ’21 explained how Zana Africa’s mission coincides with ACS’s beliefs and goals. As a result, 35% of the ticket proceeds from the performance will be donated to Zana Africa.

After a brief intermission, the show continued with “The Fight for Equality,” in which four Sudanese students of the College delineated the history and importance of the Sudanese protests and ongoing revolution of the past year. Through a mixture of prose and slam-style poetry, the students explained the true causes of the revolution, and provided a moving personal perspective on the revolution as diaspora Sudanese Americans, demonstrating “that to be Sudanese is to be resilient.”

Their talk included audience participation as they urged the crowd to hold up peace signs and say “madaniyah,” in solidarity with the Sudanese protesters. Madaniyah means “civilian government,” which is the goal of the Sudanese revolution.

The talk was followed by a rap performance by students H2_TheWavyOne and Preston.

The next segment creatively illustrated its theme, “The African Diaspora Today,” with a skit by CJ Obima and King Paul, who acted as a Nigerian-American father and son fighting over the son’s choice of a theater and film major in college. The story showcased the common experience of disconnection between first generation children and their immigrant parents.

Afterwards, the African Cultural Society’s executive board introduced themselves to the audience and gave thanks to the many performers and technicians who worked together to make the show possible.

The show concluded with a performance by Afrodite, an Afro-Caribbean hip-hop dance team on campus. The routine received an enthusiastic response from audience members and was a point of pride for performers.

“This is my third year performing at IREP with Afrodite, and every year it gets better and better,” Afrodite team member Makeda Warner ’21 said. “I love Afrodite because this is my family away from my real family, and it just makes me so happy that I have a community to look like myself here at William and Mary.”

The show brought together a large and diverse audience that included students, ACS members, parents and Williamsburg community members.

Williamsburg resident Lamone Goodman attended the event to watch his girlfriend perform in Afrodite.

“I love the dances … you never really see all the different cultures of Africa depicted, so it’s really cool to see,” Goodman said.

Audience member Masada Hassan ’22 felt particularly inspired by the presentation about the Sudanese Revolution.

“Shedding light on the diaspora, in light of the Sudanese revolution, was really important, because we have power in people,” Hassan said. “Just knowing how powerful we as students can be, with just an iPhone, is really important.”

Another audience member, Taiana James ’22, reflected on the positive impact that the event has on the black community on campus.

“I think it’s really important that we have these events on campus; it’s a really good time to all come together and celebrate ourselves,” James said.

Many of those involved in creating the showcase felt particularly motivated to demonstrate the diversity of African culture, particularly in the diaspora.

“Eritrea is made up of a lot of different tribes; we are not a monolithic nation; Africa is not a monolith,” Eyob said.

“I liked that people had fun and people felt included; I just feel like the biggest thing is inclusion and helping people understand that being Black is not monolithic; there’s so many ways to be black, so we hope that this showcase highlighted all those different ways,” ACS President Doreen Frempomah ’20 said.

Frenpomah described the process of creating the event as an extensive one.

“My entire exec board, which I am so grateful for, started planning this in July, and we went through this really long process getting acts to come, and we really wanted to have the vision and the heart of what the theme is, which is Journey of the Diaspora, to be showcased throughout the show,” Frempomah said. “Likewise, we really wanted to highlight certain aspects, like the Sudanese revolution, as well as our philanthropy project, Zana Africa, which shows the importance of sex education and how gender inequality is still a really prevalent issue in the globe today, and particularly in the African Diaspora. That’s why we wanted it to be really intentional in everything we did.”

The general sentiment among organizers of the event was one of inclusion.

“We are an organization that is open to everyone if you are interested in African culture or diaspora culture as well. We’re not an exclusive group,” ACS Event Coordinator Keyyatta Bonds ’20 said. “Our crowd tonight was very diverse, which I was very happy about, because we are a black and African organization, but to see different faces appreciating the culture and what we have to give was also a very rewarding part of the experience.”

“We hope people will continue to support ACS,” Frempomah said. “Everyone is included; I know that a lot of people think that you have to be black to be in predominantly black organizations, but that’s not true at all. We just want to be able to have a more inclusive world, and help all the people we feel need to be helped.”