Every year at Clark University, the Graduate School International Development and Social Change Department (IDSC) hosts an Africa Day celebration to celebrate Africans on campus. This year Celestina Agyekum, a Ghanaian Masters student, was in charge of the event, and she set out to make some changes to the event in the hopes that its impact would be long lasting beyond the event. For the first time, this event attempted to include not only African identity as was tradition, but also Caribbean identity.
Traditionally a one evening event, this year the celebration was a two day, two part event. The first was a dialogue on Friday, April 22nd centered on this year’s theme, “Identity”. The theme, derived from Celestina’s personal experience battling the differences between being both a Ghanaian woman but also a woman who has lived in the USA for a long time, was one that hoped to delve deeper into what identity means. Knowing she was not the only one who struggled with this, she hoped to begin the campus dialogue on this pivotal issue. The event this year became a two day event because of how deep and heavy the subject of identity was, and Celestina wanted it to be more than just a quick discussion followed by a party. The event this year was an in depth discussion on the first day, followed the next day by a celebration of African and Caribbean Identity.
The dialogue was led by Dr. Carol Bailey, whose area of teaching and research is postcolonial literatures, with specialization in Caribbean literature. A Clark Alumni, she was particularly excited to bring this conversation to Clark as a Caribbean woman. Two main themes came out of the dialogue. Firstly, any and everyone has more than one identity but it’s up to us to use these multiple identities. We are not arrested into one and we can move in and out as we see fit, and call upon them in any situation depending on our surroundings and the people around us, to help us communicate and survive. Knowing that you have the power to use these multiple identities is amazing, and very few people realize that you don’t have to pick a side. Picking is an injustice. Secondly, it’s okay if others are uncomfortable with your multiple identities. It’s their discomfort, you don’t need to be uncomfortable with their discomfort.
The dinner celebration held on Saturday, April 23rd was a celebration of the identity that was discussed at the dialogue. It was also intended to be a sharing experience, sharing our identities with people who have different identities. The atmosphere was unlike a traditional dinner, beginning with the vendors who were in attendance selling traditional West African jewelry. Clark’s very own Senior Ophelia Okoh presented her very own brand of Ankara print earrings, “Black Palette”.
The dinner included games that tested creativity and knowledge of the African continent including a quiz at the end. The idea behind these activities, according to Celestina, was to foster a collaborative atmosphere. The table games allowed people to communicate with and bond with the people they were siting with. The goal was to organize a more community-like diner that would allow the expression of identity in a relaxed environment. The quiz included prizes meant to be incentives to encourage participation, including jewelry from the vendors, gift cards as well as novels and books by Caribbean and African authors.
Celestina and the entire planning committee would like to thank the following people and departments for their support: The Office of Diversity and Inclusion, The International Development and Social Change Department, Graduate Students Council and Graduate Students Association, Sharon Hanna (financial support) and Erica Paradis (financial support). The committee looks forward to working with them again in the future.
Having been privileged to attend both events celebrating Caribbean and African Identity on Clark’s campus and as an African myself, I can honestly say that I am proud to know that Caribbeans and Africans are determined to proudly display and share our culture, traditions and identity. My hope is that through these events and these two articles, there is an increased understanding of who we are.
(Cover image photo credit: Garfield Barclay)