Greiner Hall hosted a Celebration of Black Excellence (COBE), a two-day event to honor Black leaders, students and arts at UB last Friday and Saturday.
Three days after the end of Black History Month, the event aims to show that the shortest month of the year isn’t enough time, especially when many experience Black history, Black excellence and being Black all year round.
“I think this provides [students] with opportunity, space, a home,” Matthew Castillo, the assistant hall director for Greiner Hall and a second-year social work graduate student, said. “When you’re coming to college, you’re stepping out of your comfort zone because you hope to find a community among the people around you. This program allows people to meet people like them for the first time.”
‘What does Blackness mean to you at UB?’
The two-day celebration of Black excellence (COBE) started off strong with its first event: “What does Blackness mean to you?”
A panel of three Black female leaders at UB — Kristina Collier, Jasmine Foster and Ivanna Colon — shared their experiences with racial injustices and how they found success despite the odds.
They spoke about finding your community through connecting and networking with others in various fields.
“When you find your people, you will feel encouraged to continue your journey,” Collier said.
The panelists also spoke about how to overcome imposter syndrome. Foster encouraged listeners to not compare themselves to others, as everyone’s journey is different.
“Since I started this journey to my Ph.D… I have always thought that I would want a seat at the table,” Collier said. “But honestly, it’s less me having a seat at the table and more me creating my own table.”
“In life, you are going to need to be unapologetic about things,” Colon added.
COBE’s poetry slam event was full of support, warmth and a need to speak from one’s heart. Music played gently in the background as students stood in front of a classroom and showcased their poems.
Each word rang with confidence, each line emitted truth, and each piece delivered that night opened a perspective that was longing to be heard.
From pieces about being victorious as a young Black woman whose skin is “richer than the sun’s rays,” to experiencing life as an Afro-Latino man whose journey is reflected when looking upon a mirror and more, all pieces read at COBE’s poetry slam event were welcomed and celebrated with finger-snapping and praise.
Uchenna Obumneme-Akaneme, a freshman nursing major, described feeling a sense of relief when she received an invitation to COBE, noting that events like this are not often seen at UB. She says the intimacy of the event allowed her to freely speak her mind and celebrate herself.
“With poetry, it’s really you expressing who you are,” Obumneme-Akaneme said “You relate your word, your masterpiece and be who you are through your piece. That’s what made me really happy to come here.”
Obumneme-Akaneme presented her own piece, “The Worth Beyond Value,” that night. The meaning behind the spoken words was felt, especially in the final lines of her poem:
“The child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth
I am Black and Black is me
I represent Kings and Queens
I continue OUR story to set us free because if you don’t see my Blackness, you don’t see me.”
‘Let’s Discuss — Speaker Event’
St. Clair Detrick-Jules, author of the photojournalism book, “My Beautiful Black Hair” spoke at COBE on Saturday. Sponsored by the Office of Inclusive Excellence, she came to Buffalo from Washington, D.C. to close out the celebration with a discussion of her book and her inspiration: her sister Khloe.
From a young age, Khloe was made fun of by her classmates for having an afro. Detrick- Jules wanted to show her that there is a community of Black women with hair like hers.
She traveled to different places photographing and interviewing Black women with natural hair and learning about their journeys to finding self-love.
Some of those interviews were shown to the audience. Detrick-Jules highlighted the importance of vulnerability and storytelling, the CROWN Act (a law in 20 states that prevents discrimination based on hairstyle and texture) and the policing of Black hair.
Attendees asked her questions and shared their natural hair journeys. There was also one student who shared their experience with racism on UB’s campus.
“I was honored to be part of the COBE experience because it seemed like they just had so many really great uplifting events going on,” Detrick-Jules said.
A vigil to commemorate the loss of Black lives was held on the patio of Greiner Hall Friday night, the last event of day one. Attendees were handed flameless tea light candles and gathered in a circle.
“Being able to have a space or even just knowing they [students] could have a space — they don’t have to hold all their emotions by themselves,” Mary Margaret Tull, one of the two counselors present, said. “I think probably students have had to do that a lot.”
Residence Hall Director Anthony Vargas said that COBE was not only a celebration but also a time to reflect.
Before placing the candles on the patio, Vargas told students that the artwork created on day two will be added to the display for the remainder of the academic year as a reminder of Black excellence.
The candles were turned on and attendees observed a moment of silence. When the moment had passed, Vargas asked the attendees to share their thoughts.
“It was very intentional to not forget the lives we have lost in our communities, the lives we have lost in our local communities, right here at UB, right here in our Buffalo community,” Vargas said. “It [the vigil] was a circle. We are all looking at each other. We were all able to be there for each other with our counselors, our staff and our students as a community.”
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