Annual event seeks to share African students’ cultures with the U

Ryan Dionne

After last year’s African Nite, a University student e-mailed Marcia Ashong to tell her the event persuaded her to study abroad in Africa.

The wide array of African customs impresses many people, said Ashong, a Ghana native and vice president for the African Student Association.

Approximately 550 people experienced traditional African music, dances and food Saturday at the fifth annual African Nite in the St. Paul Student Center.

The African Student Association puts on the function – which commences African History Week – as a way for the African community to connect and educate others about its culture.

“(The event) is to tell people what Africa is all about and who Africans are,” said Seyon Nyanwleh, a global studies and political science junior and liaison between the association and the Black Student Union.

Halfway through the night, about a dozen students performed a satirical play.

Its underlying message was about not forgetting your values or where you came from, said Gladys Mambo, the association’s president and a political science and English senior.

Afterward, while food was served – which Mambo said is one of the event’s biggest attractions – a PowerPoint presentation showed people about different African countries.

“The event is mainly to dispel stereotypes,” said Ashong, a global studies, journalism and political science junior.

Many of the participating students grew up in countries such as Sierra Leone, Ghana or Somalia and wore native dresses or suits.

Michael Pokawa donned an authentic suit that he said men in Sierra Leone wear in formal settings.

African students need to bring their customs to the United States, said Pokawa, who is the African Student Association representative to the Minnesota Student Association Forum.

Pokawa was born in Sierra Leone, but moved to Zimbabwe when he was 18 years old because of a civil war in his native country, Pokawa said.

Many of his relatives were killed in that war, he said.

After living in Zimbabwe for five years, Pokawa moved to Minnesota to attend the University, he said.

“Given the chance to obtain an education, you can be who you want to be,” said Pokawa, a political science and global studies senior.

A social dance capped off the night.

Mambo said that because the group has never received Student Services Fees, it relies solely on African Nite for fund raising and it is limited in what it can do.

“We thought it was very unfortunate that we didn’t get the money that we actually needed (from fees),” she said.

Despite this, the association raised approximately $5,000 from last year’s African Nite, which stretched through the entire year, Mambo said.

Limited funding or not, the association brought a little piece of African culture to a place thousands of miles from home.