In an age when the statement “Black Lives Matter” breeds controversy, to love one’s self is almost an act of protest for a Black person.
But Northwestern students attending “Black Joy: A Different World” Saturday evening were reminded that there is no shame in loving themselves and each other. The event, part of the two-week-long “Black Lives Matter, a Northwestern Dialogue” initiative, provided a sense of belonging, relief and Black Joy to Black students on campus.
Unlike the more serious programming scheduled for the initiative—including panels, film screenings, discussions and a candlelight vigil—Saturday’s event was light-hearted. NU gathered students in the Black House conference room for snacks, conversation and a screening of A Different World, a 90s sitcom set at a predominantly-Black college. The Nu Sigma Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. organized the night’s activities, and visiting sorority members joined students for a chance to share in Black Joy together.
“Black joy is just genuine happiness, coming together to share a moment and truly enjoy each other’s company,” said Mary Haynes, the sorority’s graduate advisor.
While the Black Lives Matter programming at NU is intended to highlight systemic issues of racism on campus and in the world overall, casual events like watching A Different World were also important, Haynes said. Not only did they provide a respite from the heavier events on the initiative’s schedule, but they also built bonds and memories in the Black community, she said.
SESP sophomore Ashley Woods attended the screening for a chance to relax, she said, even though she was unfamiliar with A Different World. Woods also chose take part in the event as a reminder that she was not alone on campus, she said.
“It’s a constant battle that I’m learning within myself how to deal with, to be comfortable [as a Black woman on campus],” Woods said.
Although Woods was happy to see “Black Lives Matter, a Northwestern Dialogue” spreading the message of the Movement for Black Lives on campus, she said, she also appreciated the more relaxed, unpolitical nature of the Black Joy event. For her, Black Joy means enjoying time with people who do not make her feel like an outsider, and she would appreciate similar community events in the future, she said.
Community was the driving force behind organizing the event, said Daniella Lumpkin, president of NU’s Zeta Phi Beta sorority. To be Black at Northwestern may mean being the only Black person in a class, stressing about the financial burden of attending an elite school or cringing when overhearing non-Black people question why a place like the Black House even exists. That has been Lumpkin’s experience at NU, and although administrators may make efforts to hear Black voices, it can feel like Black lives do not matter in day-to-day life on campus, she said.
“It feels like us trying to celebrate ourselves and feel like we matter is excessive to some [non-Black] people,” Lumpkin said.
But until January 17th, “Black Lives Matter, a Northwestern Dialogue,” will continue to remind Northwestern’s Black students that they do matter. The initiative’s next event will be Sunday’s Candlelight Vigil for Lost Black Lives, sponsored by the Theta Alpha Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. The vigil will be held at Alice Millar Chapel at 7 p.m., and a schedule for further programming is available on the initiative’s Tumblr and Facebook pages.
Although a number of the coming events will be more serious and discussion-based, one more event centered around Black Joy is scheduled. For Lumpkin, events promoting Black Joy are necessary to uplift students who may feel unsupported on campus, she said.
“You’re having fun,” Lumpkin said. “You celebrate each other. You have a moment where it gets to be about you. You feel like your Black life matters.”