More than 150 people didn’t let the pouring rain put a damper on an evening to celebrate the “Black Expressions through Art” program, sponsored by the Cerritos College Black Student Union as part of its commemoration of Black History Month.
The Feb. 25 event, held in the campus' Student Center, featured dozens of speakers and performers of all stripes, who paid tribute to the night’s theme through poetry, dance, music and art. Vendor booths and a raffle were also part of the festivities.
“I have been waiting a long time, like six years, for the Cerritos College B.S.U. to do something like this,” said the event’s keynote speaker Mandla Kayise, founder of New World Education, an organization with a focus on college access, retention and student leadership development.
“You (students) have to be at the forefront of social change in your community," Kayise added. "Only through you will our present conditions change.”
He also gave a brief history on the significant role African American artists played in affecting social change, reflecting on the early 20th century’s Harlem Renaissance, the ‘60s Black Arts Movement and the current Hip Hop music and the genre’s ability to unite young people from different backgrounds.
The event drew a diverse audience comprised of mostly students who filled the Center’s seats during the fashion and talent portions of the show.
Cerritos College sociology major Fabian Rodriguez said, “Although I’m not black, I still wanted to come out and support the B.S.U. because we need more unity on campus. Plus, I’m kind of an artist myself so I wanted to see some of the talent.”
And talent was on full display throughout the evening.
Byron Pittman, a member of the organization, performed a song titled, “B.S.U.,” which referenced Martin Luther King Jr., economic empowerment and the need for youth to assume leadership roles.
After some of the performances, students took the mic and recognized some members of their family. Tremel Stewart, B.S.U. president, also presented a couple members of the organization with small cash scholarships.
The evening also featured a variety of speakers who reflected on their personal experiences, including Hewlett “Smitty” Smith, a well-known pianist and jazz vocalist who talked about the racism and discrimination he faced while attending the University of Arizona as music major.
Not only was Black domestic art and music highlighted, the event also took on an international flair, courtesy of performers from Central and South America
B.S.U. member Jasmine Wright, who performed a spoken word piece early in the evening, proudly introduced a Los Angeles based band of Garifuna performers -- black people originally from West Africa located throughout countries such as Honduras, Belize, Nicaragua and Guatemala.
Wright said she began to research the Garifuna because she wanted to “connect the different pieces of black people from the diaspora.”
Once on stage, the performers from the Garifuna American Heritage Foundation, danced and chanted while two members played the drums, prompting the audience to nod their heads to the beat while others approached the stage to snap numerous pictures.
Seeing the energy build in the room, Dale Aranda, a teacher at the Garifuna Language & Culture Academy of Los Angeles, called women in the audience onto the stage.
After he also invited the men to join the dancing, more than 40 people were on their feet moving to the thunderous and frenetic drumbeats in a frenzy of laughter and multicultural celebration.
“It was beautiful, just the whole event,” said B.S.U. member Benjamine Lewis. “We have been putting this program together for months, and we just do it for each other. I was proud of the event because it showed how successful we could be when we work together.