“A Love Letter to Blackness Gala”

Muhlenberg College celebrated Black History Month with a love-filled gala

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The Mayhem Step Team performing at the gala // Photo by Rachel Fuchs '23

Muhlenberg College has been celebrating Black History Month this February. The Africana studies program, the Black Students Association (BSA), and the Office of Multicultural Life have all worked together to bring the student body events that celebrate and teach Black history. From a presentation of poetry and love letters to a detailed history of Black experiences at Muhlenberg, the College orchestrated a wide range of events to celebrate. Earlier this weekend, on Feb. 20, the concluding event was held: “A Love Letter to Blackness Gala.”

The gala brought together different voices from around campus and the Lehigh Valley to exhibit and celebrate Black art, culture and love, serving as a great capstone to a month of extraordinary events.

The event began with Richeta Cubano ‘24, who performed her spoken-word piece, “Young, Gifted and Black.” The Rejoice! Gospel Choir, directed by Eric Thompson ‘10, did a rendition of “Storm is Passing Over.” It was followed by a speech from keynote speaker, Hasshan Batts, DHSc, M.S.W, executive director of Promise Neighborhoods of Lehigh Valley, which is a group that focuses on improving the quality of life in the neighborhoods of the Lehigh Valley. 

“I think the gala was a perfect way to end Black History Month because it not only embodied the diversity of Blackness that we have on this campus but also the power of Black unity, love and creativity.”

– Mustafa Hall ‘23

Attendee Ashley Owuso ‘25 said, “My favorite part of the Black Excellence Gala was the guest speaker, Hasshan Batts. I thought it was very touching how he brought up how people should empower Black women because they are the ones who set the foundation for us to be able to do certain things today.” 

Another attendee, Kassandra Prado-Escalante ‘25 said, “I loved the way [Batts] spoke, and how he made the speech so personal to his life while also making it applicable to everyone, but especially to African American young people.”

Following the keynote speaker was a short ceremony presenting the Diversity Awards. These awards are given annually to a student, staff/faculty and community leader who works to address issues of diversity, inclusion and liberation through various practices.

The “Ella Baker Award: Counselor” was given to Aliya Kenyatta, a therapist working at the Counseling Center. The “Langston Hughes Award: Renaissance” was given to Zaire Carter ‘22, Student Government Association president. The “Kathleen Cleaver Award: Inspiration” was given to Hailey Petrus ‘23, the BSA president. Finally, the “Maya Angelou Award: Fierce” was given to Karen Britt, Ed.D., founder of the Lehigh Valley Juneteenth Celebration.

The Mayhem Step Team also took the stage at the gala. Owuso said, “I thought [their] performance was very beautiful. Whenever you hear step, most people think of it as just stomping and clapping. However it’s more than just that, it’s a way to express yourself through body movements in clapping, stomping and more.”

Neveah Everett ‘25 joined in Owuso’s opinion, “The step show is my favorite part because it gives you a sense of culture on campus. In a [predominantly white institution], we don’t always have a safe area to express ourselves. They also performed incredibly well.”

Captain of the Mayhem Step team, Matthew McCray ‘24, was proud of the team’s performance as well. “It felt great to perform back on stage with my team. Having this captain position comes with great responsibility but I’m so grateful I have a team who backs me up with powerful energy. The event went well, I believe the sense of pride was really showcased throughout the entire showcase.”

Their performance was followed by Naava Wilson ‘25, singing Corinne Bailey Rae’s “Put Your Records On” and ended with a moving poem by Mustafa Hall ‘23, which is published in the op-ed section of this week’s issue.

Wilson described her time at the event as a “wonderful experience… It felt great to perform, it’s the second time I’ve ever been by myself on stage to sing and play guitar and I really enjoy it… I think this was a great way to end the events for the month by showing the artistry and passion of our own Black students…  I hope to continue celebrating our Black community.”

BSA Vice President Bianca Bolt ‘23 also reflected on the event and the celebration of Black History Month in general, saying, “I think it was a good finish to [Black History Month] because it acknowledged the people who do a lot for this school and around the Allentown area. People don’t do things to get rewards but it helps knowing you’re appreciated.”

“I’m Black all 365 days of the year, so therefore, I will celebrate my Blackness every single day.”

– Matthew McCray ‘24

Audience members expressed how wonderful the gala was and the lasting effect it had on them. Prado-Escalante said, “I had a great time listening to, not just the people on stage, but also the discussions that happened after these events about what we just saw. I think that the legacy of these [Black History Month] events is that it naturally generates conversations among students who choose to attend.” 

Hall said, “I think the gala was a perfect way to end Black History Month because it not only embodied the diversity of Blackness that we have on this campus but also the power of Black unity, love and creativity.”

McCray agreed and concluded saying, “I think that the event shined a light in understanding that this month of February is not the only month we should celebrate Black History. I’m Black all 365 days of the year, so therefore, I will celebrate my Blackness every single day.”

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