CELEBRATING BLACKNESS DURING FEBRUARY: BLACK PASSION
WELCOME TO BLACK FRIDAY
During Black History Month, Voices celebrates not only the historical achievements the community holds to great importance, but also the stories of the present-day black community. We want to celebrate history-in-the-making. In our second week of Voices' series Celebrating Blackness During February, black Swatties team together to discuss their dreams, ambitions, and inspirations. In a world in which black culture is often profited from and consumed without attention to the black individual itself, this series hopes to highlight the real life aspects of Swarthmore students' ambition.
Hold fast to dreams For if dreams die Life is a broken-winged bird That cannot fly. Hold fast to dreams For when dreams go Life is a barren field Frozen with snow. -Langston Hughes
Black dreams, black passion, and black history in-the-making.
"Music has played a massive role in my life, and I'm consistently amazed by the revolutionary and remarkable ways that black artists use music. I love singing because it makes me feel lighter and because it's a way to express my thoughts. Between the deep lull of Nina Simone, the punchy chants of Kendrick Lamar, the uplifting gospels of India.Arie, and the smooth sway of Nat King Cole, so many phenomenal black singers have given me the words I needed when I couldn't find my own. Singing the greats lets me to tap into my own feelings and inspires me to keep spreading powerful messages of self-love and resistance."
“Theatre, acting, everything started back in high school in Nigeria – drama club was the only club with open membership. It had no prerequisites, which was great because I didn’t have any. I was a nerd, but I was too nerdy to hang with the other nerds. Drama was free for all – anyone could show up – so I showed up. And I kept on showing up; that’s what distinguished me. I stuck with it, and eventually I was one of very few of us who had been for all four years, so I was handed down the role of president. Up until then it had been a very recreational thing, I’d never seen myself as a driver of this artistic process until senior year. I’ve only just very recently began to think of myself as a “black performer,” because, as you can imagine, back in Nigeria, all the performers are black. That’s not really something you carry about as part of your identity, it’s just a part of everyday life. Being here, and being interviewed for this, and sitting as one of two people being interviewed really puts things in perspective. You tend to get a sense of importance from being a part of this – of representing your community, your racial identity, in this field of whatever you care so deeply about. I suppose I’m still coming to terms with it.”
“From a very young age, I was lucky enough to have a family that valued taking me to the theater. So we would go to Shakespeare In The Park every summer and wait for 5 hours in a line to get free tickets to whatever the Public Theater was producing that summer. My parents would make sure that I would go to musicals, so my first Broadway musical that I saw was Wicked. All of those little experiences told me that this form of performance - the energy and the…high that performers get off of being on stage is something I really wanted to be a part of. But as my best friend Kai and I, and we both identify as Black, continued to go to performance, we saw that even in these magical shows that even though you had all of these fantastical characters, it was too crazy and out of this world to cast a person of color in any of those roles. And that was something that was really frustrating for us because we had grown up as women of color who were seeing the stage and we repeatedly saw how no one looked like us. So in response to that, Kai and I decided to form a non-profit theater company, called Eat At The Table Theater Company, and that’s based off of Langston Hughes’s poem, “I too sing America,” where he says, “Tomorrow I will eat at the table.” We’re basically reclaiming space for young actors of color, to have a pipeline theater program.” Diversity matters in terms of the art world. There’s a great quote by Junot Diaz that says, ‘When I don’t see myself reflected in art, I begin to think of myself as a monster.’ He’s talking about literature, specifically, and that’s why he writes about characters that are people of color, but I think that really extends to theatre as well, because if you don’t see yourself up on stage, you’re going to feel isolated and never really given permission to tap into that creative side which I think benefits the lives of everybody, if that’s your thing. So, what we really aim to do is to reclaim space – to make it ours. And in terms of the shows we put on, we make sure there's a variety of genres and stories because people of color do not just exist in their oppression. They also have moments of celebration and joy, of embarrassment and shame, of aspirations and hopes, and those need to be reflected in media as well. And when we have that multitude of emotions mixed with conversations about identity, race and politics are not excluded, and not shaved down to something we’re comfortable with we get something that maybe we're not comfortable with but that's representative of beautiful, honest, and vulnerable artwork.”
Learn more at https://www.eatatthetable.net/
"I’ve always wanted to play guitar. But growing up, we couldn’t afford guitar lessons- let a lone find time to be taught because my mom worked two jobs. But one day when I was 14, my mom asked if I still wanted to play guitar, and without hesitation, I said yes. I gave her all my saved money, and she went out and bought me a small First Act acoustic guitar. From the moments I felt that guitar in my hands I knew this was the thing I needed in my life- I found a passion all my own. For me my guitar an extension of my soul, a mode of expression that transcends linguistic meaning. It connects me with myself, and those around me as I continue on this journey of musicianship. Music changed my life, and I want my music to change the world."
"I'd have to say that singing, to me, is liberating. It's one of the purest forms of expression. When I sing, I can emote any sort of pain, joy, or confusion I feel. As a Black girl growing up in a small and predominantly White community, singing was one of the few ways I could actually make my voice heard."
"Become the frontier of the unblazed trail"
"My poems are always really personal. What I loved about poetry was that even when I would use super personal details, people continued to tell me that they experienced similar things. It's made me feel less lonely and more proud of who I am."
“I’m passionate about people; my family, friends and teammates. That’s why I’m a supporter of service and helping others. But in terms of passion, I try to apply it to everything I do whether that be school or basketball I just try to give my all each time”
"When I was little, poetry was silly and funny and clever. I would stay up all night reading it. Around fourth or fifth grade, I asked my older brother for a notebook. He gave me two (along with a few books): One had random black dots and one had Tinker Bell (I almost never used that one. Even in fifth grade I was like F gender roles). Everything I wrote was silly. But I think as I've grown up, seen more, read more, learned more, most of my poetry comes more from a place of reflection now. It's often a way to just come to terms with life- the good and the bad."
"Volleyball to me is a sport that I feel my strongest. I can jump high, run fast, and exude strength in every move I make on the court. Being Black in can sometimes be hard at times. I remember the huge tournaments during club season where I would walk into conventions centers full of hundreds of women, and I wouldn't see a Black girl for the entirety of the day. I've often been the only Black girl on my team, and because of this, I've been thrown into the middle position, the most "aggressive" position on the court. Swarthmore is the first time where I've felt comfortable being Black and being in my sport. Here, I've been allowed to be unapologetically Black and Proud and most notably, surrounded by other strong women of color that support me and have my back. Through athleticism, I've found the strength to be an activist, to be competitive, and most importantly, to be powerful."
“Photography is therapeutic for me. The calm before a shot. The soft sound of the shutter. The enshrining of a single moment in time. The process is both a capture and a release. I love the ability to freeze a second, a moment in history, and instantly re-examine and reflect back on it because the scene will never be quite the same even a moment after the that picture is taken. Something will be different.
And that’s where you as an artist come into play. For myself I always ask, “what is is that I captured?” “Why is it important?” “What would I do differently next time?” That way I’m improving. I’m not insanely gifted with it, but I have an eye and I work hard. I think that’s what counts. It’s a process. (You can watch me in this process @flicksbytom on instagram).”
"There's always existed this narrative or ideal for black people, especially black non-men, of being 'strong,' and 'independent,' romanticizing the concept of not receiving help from anyone. Essentially, a modern, more gradual and more subtle of reinforcing the notion that black people are not human, are not allowed to be human. I was becoming aware of race and blackness at the same time I was deeply suffering psychologically, in my 7th and 8th grade years. I also have social anxiety. So at the same time that I was in my health class learning about mental health, anxiety, depression, and noticing some symptoms in myself, I was also in the process of realizing that I'm not supposed to talk about that, and I'm just supposed to be a strong, independent black woman.
Poetry, and creative writing generally, was the only compromise I could find between coping with my mental illnesses and not receiving help from anyone but myself. It was also the avenue through which black people historically and contemporarily have been expressing themselves, rejecting these damaging, anti-black "norms." I loved the vulnerability I saw whenever I read poems by Paul Laurence Dunbar, Langston Hughes, Nikki Giovanni, you name it. It's where I first encountered black people feeling. Sadness, anger, ambivalence, all things I was prone to feeling myself. And there were so many poems of celebration as well. So I think poetry, and particular black poets, have always reaffirmed and continue to reaffirm my existence, in all its counternarrative complexity. I have allowed myself to be human."
"While I'm at this school I use music to release. It's crazy though to think about how in this Anglosphere I'm using specific African forms of music that were passed down from times of slavery. So when I play music, I am consciously reaching out for ways that my captive ancestors used to alleviate the pain from when they were brought to this country. It seems like now, when I'm up here where they're aren't other people like me, that I'm still fighting for my freedom. Its a crazy lived experience to consciously engage with such circumstances. And so then my music becomes this way to release. To let my shoulders fall loose once the day is done. Once the time comes to 'return'.
I literally am not just taking myself out of Swarthmore back to Atlanta. I'm going from a western tradition of education that I've been thrown into back to my roots which are ultimately in Africa. This is scarily deep. What does that say about my psychology as a student. It says that I'm operating as a captive citizen. There's so much coping in this music. So yes, I am passionate about music. But that passion comes with a bittersweet taste sometimes. Ultimately though, I am thankful. The music keeps me from feeling like I'm in it alone."
"Music has been a huge part of my life since I was 5, when my mom signed me up for classical piano lessons.
Even earlier if you consider the R&B and hip-hop my parents would play in the car. I think that my background in classical piano gives me a huge advantage whenever I make music. I can hear the different tones in a beat and know what chord progression is coming next, which is great whenever I'm playing live piano. But also knowing the structure that makes up a beat or a measure of some other type of music makes it a lot easier to think "what flow would sound nice here?" Or "how can I modify my voice to sound better with this melody?" I love hip-hop music, and while ive only recorded a few songs, I've performed 3 times at Swarthmore's Hip-hop Showcase.
In my sophomore year, my good friend Elsher and I started the Freestyle Friday radio show, and I'm glad to say that we're in the works of passing down the torch of that operation to younger students, so hopefully it keeps going successfully. I feel like I've had a lot of support from the hip-hop community on campus, and I want to shout out everyone who's been supporting the movement, going to our shows and events, and even just going to Olde Club, as we've been attracting some dope artists there as well.
When I first came to Swarthmore as a freshman I didn't feel like there was anywhere near as much of an audience for hip-hop, like I definitely wasn't hearing it at parties on a regular basis. I'm not sure if that's due to growing prevalence of the genre worldwide or if it's a local phenomenon, but it's been great to experience."