Rejoice Gospel Choir marched single-file down the aisles of the packed Miller Forum, Moyer hall, clapping and stomping to keep time. Their voices swelled in the room, the thunder of their many boots and jingles of clothing reverberating off the walls while the audience sat silent in their seats. The choir marched, clapped and swayed, the only movement in the forum, then pooled at the the foot of the stage and turned slowly to the crowd.
“Keep on walking,” sang the group of students, swaying like a wave, as Eric Thompson conducted them.
So began the celebration of African American progress that was Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow: a Retrospective Heritage Celebration held on the last Friday of Black History Month from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. in Miller Forum, Moyer Hall. The event reached out past Muhlenberg, who partnered with the African American Business Leaders, an organization that works to recognize African American progress in the Allentown area. The event offered the college a chance to connect with the city. Song and dance by Muhlenberg students honoring African American and black history broke up stories of success in the march towards progress.
Marie Grace Imanariyo ‘20, a student from Rwanda, opened with a prayer for relationships free of bias and hate in favor of those that are just and joyful. Robin Riley-Casey, Director of Multicultural Life and Roberta Meek, Lecturer of Media & Communication and History, the main Muhlenberg organizers of the event, welcomed those in attendance.
Clyde Bosket, a crowd favorite, ascended the stage with a walker and a bright red suit to speak on the values of yesterday. His son, a member of AABLC, introduced the 89-year-old as a proponent of faith and education, who worked everywhere from food trucks to mobile barber shops. He spoke of a simple life, saying God only gives you one heart, and two neckties are too many.
“One day at a time. That’s all I’m asking of you,” he sang at the podium in a rich voice that rang clear as a bell.
The first student to take the podium was Marie Grace Imanariyo ‘20, a student from Rwanda, she opened with a prayer for relationships free of bias and hate and that are just and joyful, and gave thanks to the allies in the audience.
“We ask the great spirit to guide the black diaspora to discover their connection to one another regardless of their place of birth, their gender, socioeconomic status or education,” said Imanariyo, who was then followed by Rejoice.
Robin Riley-Casey and Roberta Meek came next, offering the audience of 130 seated individuals and stragglers in the back a chance to sit back and rejoice with them.
Clyde Bosket, a crowd favorite, ascended the stage with a walker and a bright red suit to speak on Yesterday. His son introduced the 89-year-old as a man of many talents, from food trucks to mobile barber shops, a business owner in three cities, and one of 17 children, who can be found every Sunday at a BBQ stand in the Farmer’s market.
Riley-Casey stepped forward, almost shyly. When she first came to Allentown in 2009, she said, she met Clyde through a friend’s recommendation of a barbershop in the Allentown Farmer’s Market.
“You welcomed me to Allentown,” said Riley-Casey. “And I will never forget that.”
At the end, Riley-Casey presented him with his own poster, to be placed among those of famous African Americans hung around campus this month. In honor of him, the Men of Color network on campus has established “barbershop conversations.”
Thomas Parker, Superintendent for the Allentown School district, is both the youngest and first African American to hold his position. Parker presented statistics about African Americans in places of power today, and the lack of reflection on self in leadership. Of the 33 percent PA students of color, compared to four percent teachers of color. Only two percent of teachers nationwide are black men.
Following Parker was Straight from the Roots, a dance group of four freshmen choreographed by Jalil Robinson ‘22. The four dancers were clothed in a traditionally printed African top, and their moves were improvisation based on dances from their own unique heritages. Riley-Casey suggested the dance group.
“The first piece was African drums,” said Robinson. “That was historical. Then we jump into modern dance to show how we changed overtime, how we became more individualized and creative, taking our culture and translating it into America but still maintaining our actual roots.”
Representing tomorrow was Nate Wiggley ‘19, Black Student Association President, and Steven Smith ‘19, Men of Color Network President and curator of Black History Month posters. Smith told the story of the founding of his club, and how they started as a group of five men who came to Smith’s room to talk about everything. The crowd left on a high note, giving hugs and high fives to performers.
Throughout it all, just off to the side, was a booth selling tee shirts, posters, and booklets. They featured a Periodic Table of African Americans, designed by author Floyd Stokes.
“I actually saw someone wearing a periodic table of superheros,” said Stokes. “My superheros are the African Americans who helped pave the way for us to be where we are.”
The turnout was more than expected, and earned praise from many attendants.
“I was so thrilled to see the terrific turnout and fantastic components of what was an outstanding celebration of Black History Month on Saturday,” said Muhlenberg President John I. Williams. “Kudos to everyone who was involved in producing this fabulous celebration.”