Looking into Black History from students’ perspectives

Written by Julie Leavitt

Students at BYU-Idaho gained a deeper understanding black history from their fellow students during the Black History Month Presentation Saturday, March 5 in the Manwaring Center Little Theater.

“I think it came together so well,” said Madison Beckstrand, the vice president of the African Heritage Association and a freshman studying English education. “We had a pretty good turnout. It was just good to have everyone come together and learn and just have a good time.”

During the show, students from the African-American and African Heritage Associations led students through periods of black history by presenting poetry, music, video and their individual representation of historical figures.

“(My favorite part was) just the fact that everybody was excited,and at least there was a bit of information that was passed on to people who, for some reason, didn’t know what black history is all about,” said Ekow Amakye, who performed an original arrangement of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” on his saxophone during the “Harlem Renaissance” portion of the show and is a sophomore studying biochemistry.

During the “Slavery” section of the show, Gianfranco Fernandez-Ruiz, a senior studying English, recited his original poem titled, “Voodoo Made Us.”

He said the poem was about the oppression of black men, women and children from Spain, France and Africa throughout history and how the evolution of voodoo impacted their culture.

Fernandez-Ruiz said the inspiration for the poem came as he was studying about history.

“Eventually, a chord is stricken, and I’m like, ‘Oh, I want to talk about that,’ or ‘I want to write about that,’” he said. “Then the words come.”

Isai Mendoza, a sophomore studying construction management, said he thought the students’ portrayal of influential people throughout black history was very informative.

Jonas Bahta, who portrayed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and President Barack Obama in the show and a junior studying accounting, said he was excited by the opportunity to represent these two men.

“From the time I grew up, he’s (Dr. King) been my hero,” Bahta said. “The Lord’s my hero, of course, as a member of the Church, but I also feel like Dr. King is number two, because he fought for equality, and justice predominently among African Americans, but for all, and that he had a vision that one would be judged by the character not by the color of their skin. If it wasn’t for Dr. King, I wouldn’t be here at this school.”

Bahta said that despite many people not liking President Obama,he feels that he is a symbol of hope to people.

“It reflects upon me that, regardless of your race, you can become anything in this country if you can become president,” he said. “So it gives people hope, no matter who you are.”

During the “Present Day” portion of the presentation, Ashley Simon, president of the African-American Association and a junior studying health science, and Tanoushka Georges, a junior studying elementary education, presented a skit portraying a girl whose mother tells her before job interview that she needs to get rid of her big, curly hair if she wants to get the job.

Simon then recited the poem, “Hair,” by Elizabeth Acevedo.

She said the poem was about the Natural Hair Movement that encourages black men and women to embrace their natural hair.

“For years we have had to live by, what most call, European standards of beauty,” she said.

Simon said that before the Natural Hair Movement, black women needed to have straight hair in order to be considered beautiful or professional.

“This poem reminds us that we are beautiful and we no longer need to live in a society that forces us to hide our kinks, our coils, and especially our roots,” Simon said. “For me, it says this: let them see Africa in your hair. My hair is loud and it will always be loud. God gave me loud hair and I love it.”

Rama Dajeu, a sophomore studying healthcare administration, said one of the messages that stood out to her the most from the show was that of embracing oneself for who they are.

“Appreciate yourself more,” she said. “Don’t always put yourself down, always love yourself and appreciate what God gave you.”

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