On Aug. 28, 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till was unrecognizably lynched after being accused of whistling at and flirting with a white woman. On Aug. 9, 2014, 18-year-old Mike Brown was fatally gunned down by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo. On July 13, 2015 28-year-old Sandra Bland was found dead in her jail cell after a minor traffic violation. These, and many others that have been victims of racially charged violence were honored and celebrated Saturday night along with the many black students at Penn State that are making a difference in their communities.
With the sunset of Barack Obama’s presidency, the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement and the celebration of Black History in the month of February, the Black Graduate Student Association (BGSA) had much to celebrate Saturday night in Heritage Hall.
This year was the 16th year for the BGSA Extravaganza, which features traditional Swahili titles for each portion of the event.
The event was keynoted by David Banner, a rapper, record producer and activist. Banner touched on things that the black community could execute in order to uplift the community.
“We must educate ourselves and find value in ourselves,” Banner said. “What are we doing? What is your mission statement? What are you going to build? Who are you going to be?”
In addition to Banner,’Kukumbuka‘, the reflection and remembrance portion of the event featured spoken word performances and poetry readings along with music from the Soul Section, a local hip-hop, R&B, rock, and soul cover band.Following the keynote speaker, BGSA Vice-President Indira Turney presented the 2015 Kwanzaa Honoree award, which was given to Earl F. Merritt, director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion in the College of Liberal Arts.
In addition to his work in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Merritt has served on various boards and committees promoting multiculturalism as well as the advisor for Penn State’s chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.
While Merritt told the crowd that he is usually never at a lost for words, he was definitely taken aback by this award.
“I’m a firm believer in an African Proverb that says bring good into the world and let no good get away.”At the conclusion of the event, Melanie McReynolds, president of the BGSA encouraged the crowd to take the next step.
“I want us to be the agents of change,” McReynolds said.”As scholars and future leaders of the world it’s important to be aware of and acknowledge the need for change”
“With all of the national events, there has been a lot of negatives. But it’s also important to look at the positives. With this we pay homage to those who came before us and celebrate the living.”