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This is OUR Celebration – JCSU Celebrates National African American Read-In

Yancy and Davis Halls were decorated with poster presentations created by students

Yancy Hall was transformed with student exhibits celebrating Black culture, history and pride as a part of the 29th annual National African American Read-In Celebration on Feb. 20. 

The national event was established in 1990 by the Black Caucus of the National Council of Teachers of English in an effort to make literacy an important part of Black History Month. 

This year it afforded Johnson C. Smith students the opportunity to take issues they discuss in their classrooms and face on a day-to-day basis and shine a spotlight on them, sparking discussions and opportunities for a shared learning experience. This event was sponsored by the Center for Languages, Rhetoric and Culture, the First-Year Experience at University College, the University Archives and Sigma Tau Delta International English Honors Society. 

The event started with a group performance of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” the Black National Anthem, as well as performances by the Black Ink Monks of three poems by Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes and an original poem by Tawanda Nyahasha ’20. 

Student posters and presentations took over the second floor of the connected Yancy and Davis halls. Throughout the second floor of the connected Yancy and Davis Halls, students set up exhibits on topics ranging from racism and police brutality, to the Little Rock Nine, to transgender rights in the military, spanning nearly thirty different subjects on social justice rights which were arranged and executed by students. 

In addition to the hallway art exhibits, there was a screening of the movie “The Hate U Give” in Yancy Auditorium. 

Professor Rhunette Diggs’ COM 130 Class performed as figures important to Black history and culture as part of the “African-American Wax Museum Poses” art exhibit. 

Professor Rhunette Diggs’ COM 130 Class performed as figures important to Black history and culture as part of the “African-American Wax Museum Poses” art exhibit.

Diggs and her class sat silently dressed as important figures from Black culture leaving the viewer to determine who they were.

Sophomore Mafeesa Ramadan chose to portray composer and singer Nina Simone resplendent in a colorful dashiki with her hair wrapped up as Simone often did. Sophomore Nafeesa Ramadan chose to portray composer and singer Nina Simone resplendent in a colorful dashiki with her hair wrapped up as Simone often did. 

“Her songs often reflect the struggles of African American people,” said Ramadan who also said that dressing as Simone helped her to reflect and remember her historical identity and made her think of her connection to her own family and think about her identity. 

Sophomore Cristian Benitez chose to portray quarterback Colin Kaepernick. 

“I feel connected to him because he talks for everybody, he doesn’t just speak for African Americans,” he said, “And he lost his job for what he believed.” 

Chelsea Mance ’23, Kyonna Simmons ’23, Anijah Taylor ’23 and Shelby Martin ’20 co-presented “Original Women,” a look at how women are categorized, regardless of race.

Chelsea Mance ’23, Kyonna Simmons ’23, Anijah Taylor ’23 and Shelby Martin ’20 co-presented “Original Women,” a look at how women are categorized, regardless of race. 

The presentation focused on two aspects of how women are labeled, the first part focused on women’s hair. 

“We did hair because it is a kind of universal topic that all women can relate to,” said Martin. 

“Some people categorize me because of my hair, they ask me ‘are you mixed?’ ‘are you African American?’ Because in some minds if you’re African American you have to have a perfect poof-ball and I’ve never had that,” explained Mance. 

The second topic was about topics surrounding single motherhood. The ladies said often society assumes you don’t get enough affection and you may have emotional struggles when you grow up in a single-mother household. 

“My experience being raised by a single mother helped me to be more focused,” said Simmons.  “My mom is the one who pushed me to college.”

Their advice to women who struggle with societal norms: “You have your own mind. You have your own standards. You have your own love. Don’t lower your standards, keep them high,” said Mance.

The event wrapped up with a discussion titled “It only happens through unity,” led by Mr. George Burns III, the assistant director for non-cognitive strengths-based programs, concerning his experiences with his activist work as president and founder of Throughunity.org.

“I want students to takeaway a critical awareness of the times in which we live,” said Associate Professor of English and Co-director of the Center for Languages, Rhetoric and Culture Dr. Marsha Rhee, who hosted the event along with Visiting Assistant Professor of Communication Studies Jasmine Corbett. 

“Often students have questions and ideas about the protest moments regarding the lives they lead, and the world they live in, but they don’t have a clue as to the history surrounding them, so it’s a way for them to bridge the history,” said Rhee. 

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