by Robert Gardner
The African American Student League (ASL) hosted its 19th annual Pan African Festival from 12:30pm-2:00pm on Wednesday, Feb. 20. More than 150 people of all races gathered in the College Hall Conference Room at Central Campus to celebrate black history, culture, and achievements.
ASL’s 2013 fête honored several significant events in American history. In January, President Barack Obama was inaugurated for the second time. 2013 also marks both the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech and the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, Abraham Lincoln’s executive order freeing the slaves.
“For students who understand what their families and past generations went through, they really appreciate being part of this,” said faculty advisor Tony Davis. “And it might inspire others to [appreciate] it as well.”
Festival-goers were treated to food and entertainment; more importantly, they were offered information. As part of the festivities, Keith Marks Jazz Band played their tunes—and set the mood—in the hall. Dominique Harris then offered a beautiful rendition of “Lift Every Voice” before Davis presented a brief history lesson, as well as that of the event.
“Without Dr. King, there would have been no Malcolm [X]. But without Frederick Douglass, there’d be no Malcolm or Dr. King. By standing on the shoulders of these giants, we make progress.”
The festival began in 1995—when, according to Davis, students wanted to recognize the culture and contributions of Africans living throughout the world. He acknowledged the need to foster a spirit of We vs. Just me “across the board, to get everyone working together.”
A series of paintings by former Montgomery County Community College student and employee Ruth Jordan offered a glimpse of the many faces of African-American history. The “Wall of Heroes” was commissioned in 1990 and was displayed in the main lobby of College Hall before the recent renovations.
“When I was a student,” Jordan recalled, “there were only five African American employees [at the College].”
Later, when she worked in human resources, Jordan saw discrimination first-hand and decided to take a stand. What resulted was an Affirmative Action program which initiated big changes. Ms. Jordan knew then that, despite the obstacles, the result would be worth it.
“There’s always victory after pain, if you learn from it,” she stated. “It’s good to see that Dr. King’s light, his message, continues in these young people. This event touches my heart.
For former student Ron Dinkins, this year’s event meant even more “now that they’re honoring my grandmother [Jordan].” Though he joined ASL as a student, Dinkins admits not being as involved as he could have been. “I’m here now, for her.”
Eighteen year-old Shanita Fields helped serve lunch to the attendees. The first-year biology student just joined ASL a few weeks ago. She already feels good about her decision.
“It means a lot that we can have an event like this, to be accepted. African American students can feel that their culture is appreciated by the school. That’s what means the most to me.”
Fields said she will definitely be a member for all of next year and take part in events like today’s.
ASL president Alan Poindexter emceed the event which, he said, celebrates culture, pain and struggle.
“We’re not that far removed from Dr. Martin Luther King. Only one generation,” he said. “But in this separation we’re losing what we went through. The festival teaches people who wouldn’t normally care to care. And without people who care, we couldn’t continue to make advancements.”
Poindexter does not simply talk the talk; he leads by example. During the talent portion, he delivered a powerful spoken word piece that earned a rousing applause.
For advisor Davis, Poindexter epitomizes what the festival represents.
“It’s all about building leadership,” he said. “They will contribute to their four-year universities, their communities. It’s about taking what they learn here and using it later in life.”
For students Fields, Poindexter and all those who attended, the Pan African Festival was a chance to stand on the shoulders of giants and look forward into their futures.
photos by Matt Carlin