Students depict African cultures in annual showcase

The African Student Association hopes to inspire greater awareness of Africa.

Vadim Lavrusik

University students brought a piece of Africa to campus.

St. Paul Student Center’s North Star Ballroom was filled with more than 600 people Saturday for the seventh annual African Night hosted by the African Student Association.

Students from the University, the University of Wisconsin, Madison and others from around the state and as far away as North Carolina gathered for a night of celebration and hope of “Africa Today,” this year’s theme.

African flags lined the walls of the ballroom; each flag was represented by a student from the University, through poetry, fashion, dance, acting and food.

Seyon Nyanwleh, president of the African Student Association, said the association holds the event as a form of giving back to the community and to showcase the talents and beauty of African culture.

“It is a way of telling the University we are here on campus and we are here to stay,” said Nyanwleh.

Nyanwleh, who is originally from Liberia, said there is a new wave of political change in Africa and the University has potential students who are making an effort to take part in these developments.

“What remains for the future of Africa is uncertain,” Nyanwleh said. “But justice is being served.”

This year’s theme was presented by Samuel Kofi Woods, minister of labor of Liberia and advocate of human rights, who traveled from Liberia to speak at the event on issues surrounding Africa today.

Woods said some of the issues are the struggle of the African identity and political renewal.

“When I am in Africa I try desperately to understand our dilemma, why civil wars have victimized our people into exile,” Woods said.

There is no such thing as African American, Woods said, every black person is African. Whether a black man came here 100 years ago or recently, they came here from Africa, he said.

Woods encouraged University students to get an education and return to Africa to participate in its renewal.

“These young people sitting here today can make change possible,” Woods said.

Woods spoke reminiscently of a dream similar to Martin Luther King Jr.’s, “a dream of a new Africa.” He said change is coming, and there are signs in his own country with the first female president being elected into office in Liberia – hope is not lost.

Woods was presented with a trophy for “Social Justice” by Al-Jerome Chede, the host of the event. As Chede called Woods the future president of Liberia, the people cheered and gave a standing ovation.

William Bombo, co-chairman of the African Student Association, said he shares this vision with Woods.

Bombo said the event aims to educate students on the current situation in Africa and encourage them to get a higher education and go back to rebuild the many war-torn nations.

He said the way Africa is portrayed through media is not accurate and when you go there you get a different feel for what the situation really is like.

“Africa is a better place you can go and socialize and gain education, we do have natural resources, mineral resources,” Bombo said. “It is a war-torn continent, but we do have something to offer to the rest of the world.”

The event, which lasted more than four hours, had an intermission with food

from various African nations and a play which portrayed the African identity crisis between the African and Western cultures. African Night also featured students performing dances representing African cultures.

Dental hygiene sophomore Lense Solomon, who performed spoken-word poetry that she wrote herself, said she wanted to participate in the event to represent Oromo people and their suppression in Ethiopia.

Solomon, who read a spoken-word poem depicting the struggles of the Oromo people, said suppression is taking place with her people and many other groups in Africa, but that hope is still there.

Solomon said her people are not receiving the same benefits as other groups within Ethiopia – such as education, which the Oromo people receive until 10th grade.

“They need to be able to practice their culture, speak their own language and not be forced to speak the language of the minority of the nation,” she said.

Hossana Teklyes, University alumnus in civil engineering, who is from Ethiopia, disagreed with Solomon’s stand on the suppression of the Oromo people.

“Everybody is being suppressed in Ethiopia, not just the Oromo,” said Teklyes. “I had three of my brothers die because of this suppression.”

He said the Oromo want to be their own nation and he doesn’t like his own government either but that doesn’t mean the Oromo should have their own country.

“This is a very sensitive issue, like many in the African nations today,” he said.