By Christina Dinh
The performers on stage: beautiful, elegant and powerful. The audience: so loud with cheer and applause you could barely hear the music, let alone the MCs. This is the image that I remember the black history assembly by.
The assembly took place on February 25th in the auditorium, with an ensemble of 57 performers and 73 students working behind the scenes. It took months of preparation to pull it off.
To begin, students were asked to stand for the land acknowledgement and Lift Every Voice and Sing—often referred to as the black national anthem—sung by Brandie Richardson and Ksana Marshall, accompanied by the Strings Octet.
The MCs continued to remind the audience that the celebration of black people is not to be limited to a month. It is a celebration that should be continued everyday.
“We are reclaiming our narrative. Our history is too expensive, beautiful, resilient, and powerful to ever become some cliché social media trend.”
The focus this year included microaggressions, stereotyping, and cultural appropriation.
A video made by Deanelle Martin and Khali Abdi was played, showing several students and their outlooks on cultural appropriation. The students highlight the importance of their culture and the role it plays. It is part of their identities, values and morals. Culture isn’t meant to be a trend or an accessory; especially when people are slandered for it with stereotypes and harmful comments. There is meaning and struggle, and that is why an understanding of cultural appropriation is absolutely crucial.
Then, arranged by Club President, Daniel Hamilton-Richards, and Vice President, Khadija Mohamed, a fashion show. This is where the crowd went wild with applause and cheer; I could barely hear the descriptions of the outfits. The traditional fashion included Somali dresses, the dirac, a Nigerian dress, the iro and buba, and lastly, a dashiki. The scene shifts from traditional to modern with fashion from African American pop culture during the 1970s to the 2000s. Each time period was tied to significant music figures during the time. The 70s and their disco influence from Diana Ross and Cheryl Lynn all the way to the 2000s with influences from Rihanna and Beyoncé. The fashion show had to be my favourite part of the entire assembly.
Following were several dances back to back, beginning with a dance which was a hybrid of soca and afrobeat. Then, many traditional Somali dances were performed, choreographed by Idil Mohamed and Khadija Mohamed. Performed were the dances sharax, jeliya, hailo and dhaanto. My favourite has to be the first of the four to be performed called sharax—a dance meant to show off the dancer’s clothing. Choreographed by Yannaa J. & Khadijah O, the last dance was modern, showing the comparison to traditional dances. The dancers deserve so much acknowledgement for their hard work especially the amount of organization, time, effort and skill they put into their performance.
Next came a tableau directed by Deanelle Martin called Blue Lights. The performance is to the song Blue Lights by Jorja Smith. To quote Deanelle, “I chose this song… to showcase the repercussions of wrongfully stereotyping black males as drug dealers and gang members.” A boy goes to hangout with his friends who show him a bag of drugs and a handgun. As if already accepting his fate, the words “Subconscious waves you accept,” are sung. The boy is handed a gun and is encouraged to shoot another boy. As the boy is holding the gun, his friend is the one to pull the trigger. “How’s man like you gonna make me a convict?… but I’ve done nothing wrong.” The boy is arrested and the play ends with a step dance performance by an ensemble of prisoners. The performance was captivating and incredibly well done. Hats off to the actors and AV crew for their spectacular work.
After the play, the same dancers, BHED’s Steppers, returned as the prisoners. “This decision was made to speak to the fact that Black people are dramatically over-represented in Canada’s prison system, making up 8% of the federal prison population, despite the fact they make up only 3% of the population.” As the piece ended, the dancers all turned to reveal the letters on their backs to spell out “WE ARE MORE” Jennessa Tachie, member of BHED+, commented,
“It speaks to the fact that black people are stereotyped, but we are so much more than that. There are many more interpretations, but that’s just one of the many.”
The final performance of the assembly was incredibly impactful. “Stand Up” by Cynthia Erivo was performed by Ksana Marshall and her impressive powerful vocals. Every performer during the assembly joined the stage. The energy was impeccable. The curtains closed with the last line, the perfect ending to such a well executed and purposeful event.
When asked what is to be taken away from the assembly, Jennessa Tachie stated,
“The assembly highlights appreciation over appropriation and shows the variety of different expressions of black culture. Black is brilliant.”
The black history assembly is genuinely one of my favourite events of the year. It isn’t only entertaining and well done, but enlightening and educational. There is no doubt the next one will be just as, if not more, exceptional.