BYU students came together Friday night to celebrate black culture through music and art for Black History Month.
The WSC Ballroom filled with students and community members on Feb. 16 for the annual Perspectives event.
The event began with a short video of emcee Ronald Weaver asking students and faculty across campus what they already knew about Perspectives. Many answers indicated the event was not widely understood, leading Weaver to explain.
“(Perspectives is) to show BYU and teach them about our culture,” said the student event director Johnisha Demease-Williams.
This is the first year a student director was chosen.
Demease-Williams said she started working on the event in October with two different groups: the Black Student Union and Multicultural Student Services. She said she felt the event was very successful, especially when compared to the growth from the previous year.
The first performance of the night was the Black National Anthem sung by the Multicultural Student Services Gospel Choir. The words were displayed on stage and the crowd was encouraged to stand and join in singing.
The night continued with vocalists, spoken word and monologues representing various historical figures. Each performer took time to explain their selection of history and why they chose to honor that person or event.
“I hope they realize black culture is more than rap, more than stereotypes of angry, fatherless homes and thug guys,” said Déborah Aléxis, a vocal performer from the evening. “There’s more depth (to black culture). We love to have fun together, cry together and bring the community together.”
Weaver payed tribute to his heroes in black history throughout the performance, including Jackie Robinson, Barack Obama and his own mother.
One spoken word performance was an original piece written and performed by Melodie Jackson, Jodian Grant, Breasha Morris and Krissy Scott.
The four took turns reciting individual and group lines from the poem “Four Girls,” which highlights the innocence of children and their desire to have a normal childhood.
The group performed with low lighting so the audience could only see their silhouettes.
The final line of the poem was spoken in unison — “see us” — and the lights came on to show the performers.
A jazz group performed an original piece written by group member Sam Herrera and sung by lead singer Genevra Munoa. Some of the lyrics read, “The world won’t get no better if we just let it be. We gotta change world, you and me.”
Herrera said he wanted his song to express an “uplifting message.”
“I really believe you can do that through music,” Herrera said.
Déborah Aléxis, Jodian Grant and Adhieu Arok danced together to perform “Tumbum.”
Arok said she got involved with Perspectives because she wanted to show her heritage. She said she learned a lot through the night, especially about earlier pioneers in black history.
“Even though I’m black, I can still learn more about black history,” Arok said. “It’s not taught anywhere, so it’s up to me.”
Tomi Adegoke performed a monologue as Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals at the Berlin 1963 Olympics. Owens was the most successful athlete at an Olympic games where Hitler intended to prove the “Aryan” race was dominant.
“(Owens’) sacrifice led me to run track for BYU,” Adegoke said.
Josephine Clark, who attended the event, said Marianne Aboussou’s performance of “Rise Up” by Andra Day was powerful.
“I definitely saw a new perspective,” Clark said. “I could feel all the words she was saying.”
Audience member Ricky Fantroy said he came to the event to support multiple friends who performed. He said he hopes those who attended are able to better hold a conversation about black history after the evening’s performances. He wants people to be able to not only remember the history, but respect it and reflect on what it symbolizes.
The night closed with a compilation of numbers from the Multicultural Student Services Step Team. The group filled the stage with a choreographed step-off and made their way to line the aisles of the crowd for the finale.
Demease-Williams then gave closing remarks where she thanked each of the organizations involved and the volunteers who made the night possible. She encouraged audience members to mark their calendars for Perspectives next year, which will be held Feb. 15, 2019.
Audience members were also encouraged to attend the remaining Black History events on campus in the coming weeks:
- Black History Month Concert, Greg Stallings & co., Brazillian Jazz. HBLL auditorium. Feb. 21, noon.
- “Migration and Politics in Africa” lecture. 238 HRCB. Feb 28, noon.
- “Rethinking Jim Crow Segregation” lecture. 238 HRCB. March 8, 11 a.m.
- “The Repatriation of W.S. Connolly, and Other Trips Home” lecture. 238 HRCB. March 8, 4 p.m.