The Brown Center for Students of Color’s Black Heritage Series sponsors two annual campus traditions: The Black Arts Showcase held each fall and Soul Food Night, which takes place every spring.
The COVID-19 pandemic put both of these events in peril this year, unfortunately, by creating the need to limit social gatherings — and particularly those with involving meals — to protect health and safety, but the student organizers of the Black Heritage Series were determined to keep the traditions alive. When the University began encouraging applications for thoughtfully planned in-person activities this spring, the students combined the two signature events into a single, COVID-safe springtime celebration, which was held on the College Green on Tuesday, April 6.
This year’s event, which retained the name Black Arts Showcase, featured artwork and performances by dozens of members of the Black student community at Brown. It culminated in a to-go soul food dinner, which was prepared and served by Brown Dining Services staff and enjoyed by attendees individually or with podmates after leaving the event.
Wassa Bagayoko, who co-organizes the Black Heritage Series, said that the opportunity to uphold these well-loved campus traditions — and to bring fellow students together at a time when they are just beginning to enjoy more in-person events — proved invaluable.
“I’m definitely very, very grateful to give people an excuse to get dressed up, see some really nice art, and — even if it’s from across the main green — to wave out to people they may not have seen in a year,” said the senior international relations concentrator.
Over the course of the event’s 3 hours, dancers, musicians and spoken-word poets performed —individually or with podmates, and masked — on the brick platform atop the Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center steps. Generously spaced easels and tables displaying paintings, photographs and mixed media artworks dotted the College Green, with descriptions of each piece available via a scannable barcode that allowed viewers to read about the artworks from their own phones, at a safe distance from other viewers.
Additional measures ensured that all attendees could enjoy the event while adhering to campus public health guidelines. All participants were required to wear masks, and attendance was capped at 50 people at a time, with students filtering in and out of the event at times they signed up for in advance. Staff members from the Brown Center for Students of Color and its sister centers — including the Sarah Doyle Women’s Center, the Global Brown Center and the U-FLi Center — were on hand to keep track of the number of students on the College Green and to ensure all health and safety guidelines were followed.
For Manuella Talla, who co-coordinates the Black Heritage Series with Bagayoko, the in-person event was a welcome opportunity to celebrate — and celebrate with — fellow members of the Black student community at Brown, as well as with students, faculty and staff from across the University.
“I think that one thing that’s so beautiful about creating events for the Black community is just the feelings of joy and excitement and happiness that you really feel everyone just enjoying,” said the sophomore biology concentrator. “It was amazing being able to bask in that happiness, all together.”