In celebration of Black History Month and the Black Student Movement’s 50th anniversary, the Arts Everywhere initiative and BSM have collaborated on a performance showcase called Black Pioneers: A Creative Celebration, which will be held Friday, Feb. 9 in the Historic Playmakers Theatre from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
The showcase's title pays homage to UNC’s first graduating classes of Black students, who worked to desegregate the University from 1952 to 1972. Friday’s performance features an excerpt from the original Black Pioneers Project performed in 2016, which was inspired by transcripts of interviews with students from the Black Pioneers era.
This project was part of an ongoing project called The Process Series, developed by UNC artist in residence and Artistic Director Joseph Megel. The series aims to highlight works in progress and the creative process through artists and performers.
“The stories cover issues centering around roommates and being rejected by white roommates, to receiving lower grades due to being discriminated against, to political engagement and the creation of the Black Student Movement,” said Megel.
Black Pioneers: A Creative Celebration will also feature a preview performance of the one-man play “The Talk" by Sonny Kelly in collaboration with the UNC Department of Communication. The play deals with issues of police brutality and its effect on children realizing their identity in the Black community.
“We really wanted to show everyone how we are all shaped by the pioneers that came before us,” said Rachel Ash, the associate director of Arts Everywhere. “But also how students today are carrying forward those experiences and traditions.”
Additionally, the showcase will feature performances from other UNC students, faculty members and alumni, with acts including spoken word poetry, sketch comedy, a student hip hop organization and the student a cappella subgroup of BSM, Harmonyx.
“I think this would be a really good thing for people who are not minorities to come and see,” said Jackie Omweno, the Black History Month co-chairperson for BSM.
Similar sentiments were expressed by BSM President Aaron Epps.
"(Black Pioneers) is really a call to action, a call to awareness concerning issues that Black students face, living on campus and living in America,” Epps said.
Similarly, Megel said this year’s Black Pioneers showcase will give a creative lens to traditionally underrepresented populations on campus and, by extension, hold the University accountable for its racially charged past.
“UNC’s rich history includes some things that we need to look at critically, and we need to own our participation in the culture of racism,” Megel said. “Any institution needs to reckon with that, and we should certainly do that at our University.”
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