From print art to lyrics to prose, community members used expressions of their media to highlight their experiences as black individuals.
The event, titled Speak on It!, was one of many Black Heritage month events aimed to educate and celebrate.
Songs, spoken-word performances and paintings were among the many types of art presented last Tuesday night. All were used as a means to express important issues, such as police brutality, being a minority at a predominantly white institution and simply finding meaning in oneself.
While these topics are not always easy to talk about, event coordinator and MC for Speak on It! Junior nursing major Cheniya Alston, of Richmond Park, Illinois, believes talking about these hard topics is necessary.
“Everybody keeps saying ‘black people are strong, black people are strong,’ but even the strongest people have their struggles,” Alston said. “I think it’s important to talk about that.”
To Alston, art is the perfect way to talk about these tough topics.
“[It’s] also to [important] realize that we are more than these perspectives alone, that’s why we have music and that’s why we are doing it in this form of expression: art. I always say to my friends that ‘your experiences shape who you are, but you are not your experiences.’ They’re important, but they’re not you.”
For Ta’Nia Jordan, a liberal studies alumnus of Glendale Heights, Illinois, painting is a reflection of her feelings and how she wants to project herself to the larger world. On stage, she discussed “My Alien Babe,” one of the paintings that she’s most proud of.
“She’s a Martian sitting on top of Mars, looking out into the universe,” Jordan said. “Basically, it’s me looking out into the world trying to figure out what’s next and where I fit in.”
This painting portrays the Martian staying strong in the face of uncertainty.
“Still, I portrayed her holding her head high; her head is actually levitating off of her body,” Jordan said. “She’s still sitting with confidence, sitting with poise. She’s still trying to figure out what’s the plan but is not forgetting that she’s royal. She maintains the confidence that she’s a powerful black woman and she’ll figure it out.”
English alumni and spoken word poet Vincent “Ackurate” Manuel, of Brooklyn, New York, performed his piece “Soul Misfit” which spoke about a personal epiphany.
“When I wrote that piece, I looked at my personal situations in life and I tried to understand why I couldn’t function amongst others with my situations that were going on,” Manuel said. “I pretty much came to the conclusion that you have to take care of home, and home is yourself. You have to take care of yourself in order to deal with anything that goes on in the world because if you don’t have yourself in order, no matter how great things may be perceived to be, they’re still temporary.”
Manuel said he hopes to encourage students to better the culture of SIUE through speaking out, but in a productive way.
“I think to [improve the culture means to] speak out on things that your heart has to give to the SIUE culture and don’t hold back,” Manuel said. “To me, there’s always a right and a wrong way to say things and choose your words wisely.”
The discussion was not limited to those on the stage, as Alston and the other MCs asked the crowd questions such as “What does being black mean to you?” to hear their experiences.
“With this event, we can hear students’ perspectives, we can hear their views and their experiences because while the black experience is one in itself, there are so many sides to the black experience and we want to hear all of them, especially in our own community here at SIUE,” Alston said.
Alston said students getting to share their experiences makes this event different from the other Black Heritage Month events hosted by CAB. From Alston’s perspective, Black Heritage Month is about celebrating great African-Americans of the past and knowing that one can contribute as well.
“Black Heritage Month means being proud and understanding that we are the strongest of the strong,” Alston said. “We are here because our parents wanted better for us and we want better for our next generation. Black Heritage Month is understanding that so many beautiful things came from black people and living in that and understanding that you can do it too.”
For a complete schedule of SIUE’s Black Heritage Month, visit https://www.siue.edu/cab/ and click on the Black Heritage Month tab.