Have You Heard?

Department - Mary Lou Williams Center For Black Culture

Live Jazz at the Mary Lou

Weekly Jazz Wednesdays add music to study sessions and coworker meetups

John Brown perched on a stool, his fingers flying across the thick strings of his bass. He closed his eyes as the drums, piano and trumpet conversed with each other, taking turns carrying the melody.

Across the room at Duke’s Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture, students studied notes on laptops and visitors watched the jazz ensemble, bobbing their heads to the beat.  The tradition of “Jazz @ the Mary Lou” is 10 years old, and Brown, director of the Duke Jazz Program, brings different musicians to the center every Wednesday evening, from professional performers to up-and-coming high school students.

Read more.

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The Other

In 2008, Ghana hosted the African Cup of Nations (AFCON), the most prestigious pan-African football (soccer) tournament. When the Ghanaian Black Stars defeated Nigerian Super Eagles in the semi-finals there was so much jubilation nationwide, you would have thought we won the whole AFCON or finally achieved Kwame Nkurmah’s dream of Pan-Africanism. Why the craziness? Because Ghana and Nigeria are archrivals and we beat them on home soil. I remember how my heart pumped as I watched Nigeria’s demise. We had defeated them.

The idea that Nigerians were ‘the other’ came so naturally to me as a child. They had distinct accents, different names etc. But are they really? I will skip my ‘our-borders-were-defined-by-cruel-colonial-masters-dividing-ethnic-groups-indiscriminately #agape #weareallonebigfamily’ rant and concisely conclude that we should care equally about all human beings. Why does it matter that I was innocently brought up to see Nigerians as ‘the other’? Because, the mentality that people are ‘the other’ is partly the reason why the recent killings in Nigerian have received no potent response from Ghana or any other country.

In the past few weeks, the horrors of the ongoing brutal killings in Nigeria have struck a vein in me. We all know about the instability that has long plagued the North and we all know that it is escalating. What are we doing about it? As my Nigerian friend Bamidele Rebecca Iyanuoluwapo put it, ‘The killing of innocent people and destruction of properties in Wukari, Taraba State is low-key. The killing of people everyday in Jos, Plateau State is low-key. The fact that ethnic genocides are going on in some parts on the North is low-key.’ She is right. There are pictures of the horrors in Nigeria floating around but where is the outrage from the UN, AU, ECOWAS and Ghana? Why is it ‘low-key’?

I present no solutions to the crisis in Nigeria, but I would like to share two quotes from past Ghanaian presidents that I think articulate the progress of pan-africanism from independence to the present day.

1.‘Our independence is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of Africa.’
-President Kwame Nkrumah, first president of Ghana, on independence day in 1957.

2.‘Mind your own business’
- President Atta Mills, on post-election crisis in Cote Ivoire in 2011.

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50 Shades of Black: A Small Piece of My Black Experience

Throughout this piece, Black will be referring to all descendants of the African Diaspora, a definition I first heard given by Ms. Guinn. Maybe this dispersal (both forced and voluntary) can be seen as a means to understand the almost schizophrenic fluctuations of the definition of Blackness and the subsequent complexity of my people. It is a complexity that the majority of Black folks are unaware of. We seem to forget that the different shades of brown we wear are not the only variations amongst Black people, which can be seen in the ‘light-skinned’ vs. ‘dark-skinned’ feud that has followed us from the plantation. Each individual comes to define and reflect Blackness differently based on their experiences and environment. My arrival to Duke has caused me to look at my own reflection questioningly.

Back home, Blackness is characterized by grammatically incorrect sentences, dope boy dreams, athletic prowess, and ‘being about that life’, or at least that’s the way it seemed to me then. My story is like many walking the quads of Duke. I was called an Oreo, and when I spoke, I was told I ‘talked white’. Regardless, I continued to use Standard English, and I refused to take part in activities that made you ‘about that life’. My life may have been easier had I given in and went further to fit in, but I found myself taking pride in the fact that I didn’t. I looked down upon those who did. The story changed at Duke.

Duke was where I was supposed to fit in. Finally, there were Black people that understood that my culture was a reason to obtain excellence not debauchery. I was amongst some of the biggest and brightest Black minds in the country. Grades suddenly mattered to Black men, and Black females wore business jackets to class. The Mary Lou, which effectively acts as a community center, encouraged professionalism, class, and community rather than hoop dreams. Let’s not get it twisted. I am aware of the ‘ratchetivity’ that can take place; but somehow, it doesn’t come to define us. What transpired in response to these facts was shocking. My private speech got even more ‘ratchet’, and I yearned for the small talk conversations of the country. Suddenly, I realized that it needn’t be either or. I could be both a black scholar and be at home at home a) because it was my desired expression and b) because they function as different sides of the same dice, not opposite entities. It also dawned on me that my picture of home was not complete. Just because it is not Duke does not mean that each male is a thug and every female a breeding ground. I had to make my understanding more nuanced. In reaction to this, I have reached a few personal inferences.

I have come to the conclusion that my people needn’t be saved from themselves, as I had believed before Duke. Like we admonish students for going overseas with a savior’s complex, I had to chastise myself for thinking that my presence and education should somehow teach other people, my people how to live. In reality, my only job is to expand their options and learn from the experiences that are unfamiliar to me. I had to reconcile my ignorance to historic hip hop performers and the intense dependence that others had on their message and power with the shared understanding that you can’t walk around a store for hours and not buy anything when your skin looks like ours.  In other words, it’s about realizing that though some reflections of Blackness are a different shade from mine, they are still black.
After my own moment of fleeting enlightenment, I am curious. Do we accept and acknowledge the hues of Black culture being represented in the ‘hoods’ and ‘country bumpkin towns’ many of us are trying to break out of? More importantly, do we appreciate them? Should we? Or am I wrong? Are we all representative of one grand Black culture, because of our shared subordination? As Black Duke graduates, what shade of black will we be? It is my hope that, once we are out of this space, we will not forget to acknowledge each person’s shade of Black with understanding and openness, as we are equipped with the understanding that there are gradations, there is no one color.


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“The British are coming!” “I had a dream” “That's one small step for a man, a giant leap for mankind” “Sharkeisha! Noooooooooooooooooooooo” “Go to hell Carolina, go to hell, eat…you know the rest”

What do all these phrases have in common? They are all under 140 characters, but are memorable messages of great importance (depending on who you are). Twitter is a website and application that gives its users the agency to declare a thought, feeling, opinion, fact, picture, and so much more, so long as it fits within the limit. Twitter is great for having your voice heard amongst those that find you interesting enough to follow, but does it encourage fellowship, or hinder it?

Every Thursday night at 10 o’clock hundreds of thousands of people gather on twitter in front of their TVs ready to retweet, favorite, or reply to the best tweets about Olitz and Mellie, or of how annoying Quinn is, Scandal’s biggest stars. There are also Duke basketball days or nights on which twitter timelines are filled with tweets about how bad UNC is and how Duke basketball can’t be touched (whether true or false). One of the biggest highlights for many of us avid tweeters in the Duke black community occurs at random times. These occasions include late nights doing homework, on snow days, or bored on a weekend night. We all gather together to form what is called #BlackDukeTwitter. Often times you won’t even see the hashtag, but all who call themselves a part of it know when the entity is at work. Topics of discussion in the past have included possible new SAT questions, the poor living conditions in some of Duke’s dorms as told by some of their residents, and gratitude towards Larry Moneta for our many snow days. #BlackDukeTwitter meets to discuss everything from Scandal, Duke basketball, and food point struggles to the LDOC lineup, micro aggressions on Duke’s campus, and the struggle bus.

While these vibrant discussions are the highlight of many students’ paper and problem set filled days at Duke, I found myself asking the following question during spring break: “Imagine if we got together and kicked it and joked around in real life like we do on Twitter when Scandal comes on “slash” there's a trending topic.” While I joke around often with my friends, I have never had the opportunity to joke around like I do on twitter with a population as big as the people I regularly interact with in real life. During an event for the Black Women’s Union, a large group of us were together, but we also had our heads in our phones and laptops waiting for the next funniest tweet. What happened to discussing current events together while hanging out without our phones and laptops in hand? I sometimes find myself talking more about how funny a trending topic was, then about the topic itself.

In the end, we are all extremely busy here at Duke, and I don’t think lightening your mood by scrolling through tweets is detrimental, in fact, I think everyone should have a twitter. I just encourage people to not forget their friends behind the twitter handles. Be a part of #BlackDukeTwitter, but don’t forget what it means to be Black at Duke.

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You take a step and then you take another step. You’re on the bus
You regret having only gone to sleep only a few hours earlier
You blame your team for winning but not really because you figure you could sleep on the bus and well, you like to brag about your team to people back home
You find a seat in the back of the bus because you want your space to sleep, think and be
You arrange your body in a manner that is somewhat comfortableYou fall into a sleep that your mind and body yearned for
But you have a nightmare.
You dream of a world where nonviolence prompted violence
You dream of a world where innocent children and adults were the victims of bombings
You dream of a world where the best and the brightest were pierced by arrows of hatred
You dream of a world where people your own age decided that they were strong, brave and selfless enough to risk their lives
Who jumped on buses,
Without knowing who or what they would arrive to
Your body jerks at the sound of parents screaming as they learn about their child’s death
You fall to your knees when you see the caskets of the young and innocent
Your heart aches for the precious faces that no longer smile
Your heart cries when you see the faces of the ones you love in these caskets
You wish you had the power to protect them, to shield them, to hold their hands
But you don’t.
You sit paralyzed
You sit paralyzed
And, You stay paralyzed
And then you feel the slap of a heavy rough white hand
Of someone who thinks you deserve such pain
You look down at your body
At the darkness that makes you invisible yet outs you as the most visible
The heavy rough white hand continues to destroy and dismantle
The blows persist
But so do you.
It continues for what feels like decades and decades and it then it feels like centuries
You persist, and you become stronger, and you are proud of who you are.
We are here! Someone’s voice sings.
Your eyes snap open and you take in a sharp breath
You slowly rise
Your neck is sore from the hard armrest and your lower back hurts
You sit up and look out the window
You’re back at Duke

But the heartache is as painful as ever

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Leaning Into Discomfort

Every day on Duke’s campus, we are faced with a subconscious decision –the red pill or the blue pill?

Every semester, 56 Duke students take the red pill. They embark on a journey about which they know nothing besides the many controversial Chronicle articles and Facebook posts. This journey ‘Common Ground,’ is formally described as “a student-led diversity immersion retreat program dedicated to exploring human relations in personal and powerful ways. “

It is easy to write this off as cliché, thinking: how could a single weekend possibly change anyone’s established ideals on race, gender, sexuality, etc.? Why would you go on a retreat with strangers to get to the bottom of any problems I’m facing?  Sadly, it is even easier to dismiss the newly “enlightened” Common Ground attendees off as “drinking the Kool-Aid.” I know these viewpoints well because, prior to attending Common Ground, I felt the same way. I was tired of all of the social media posts and articles praising the retreat for changing people’s outlook on life. I was tired of the cultish “CG Parties” I would hear about from someone who subsequently told me I wasn’t welcomed. And I was definitely tired of the secrecy associated with the event – as if people who’d went learned something that they couldn’t share with us mere and unenlightened Duke students.

Out of the 56 attendees, very few are black students. I originally wrote this article aiming to convince black students in our community that Common Ground is an experience. It should be shared by us all - whether we wanted to go for our own growth or to help others. Many of us, though we do not see ourselves as “racist,” will subconsciously align with racist or prejudice ideals. I have done so myself in my time at Duke. Without knowing anything about them, I often ignorantly assumed people outside of my own race looked down on me. Common Ground reminded me of how to look beyond color and into a person. However, it also reminded me that those prejudice ideals I had were not without basis. There are still many people on Duke’s campus who will judge me just by the color of my skin. I felt as though the retreat served a dual purpose – to prevent me from assuming certain individuals hold prejudices against me, and to open the eyes of those who are blindly prejudice allowing them to see their wrongs. I was told at the end of the retreat by a white female that I helped her “look inside of herself” and changed her perspective on a lot of things. There was an unspoken understanding; my words about life experiences had changed her perspective of black people . She was trying to unlearn racist ideals that had been instilled in her. She had acknowledged her racism and her privilege to be able to walk away from feeling her discomfort - instead she stayed and tried to learn more. Now while I thought this was a positive thing, others who I’ve spoken with feel as though this shouldn’t be our place as black students. Between Common Ground and conversations with black students who have had just about enough of defending themselves, I found myself stuck between a rock and a hard place. I tried to organize my thoughts from three completely different perspectives. The first: Your racism isn’t my problem. The second: If we aren’t speaking up, someone will on our behalf. The last: Will any of this ever really change regardless? Can I just take the blue pill and move on?

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New Sites, New Perspectives

Public Policy

I am now a few days removed from my Roots to Rights alternative spring break experience. The trip included several hours riding from place to place, and it was a bit hectic to move from one hotel to another. But this experiential education tour gave me a unique perspective on a region I have lived in for my entire life but soon realized I had a lot to learn about.

Our tour of Ole Miss campus in Oxford, Mississippi stands as one of the highlights of the trip for me. Our tour guide, professor Jen Stollman, said that she wanted to demystify the South for people. As someone who grew up in Durham, North Carolina, I always viewed my hometown as a progressive hub that was merely surrounded by rural communities of Confederate flag-waving racists. But Stollman emphasized that people should not look at the South as a foreign, backward place, but as a complex region still dealing with the remnants of its troubled past. Stollman noted the contradictions of the South – how, for example, it included more interactions among whites and blacks. And yet, the first thing many people see upon arriving at Ole Miss campus is a towering monument for Confederate soldiers.

The trip included many unique opportunities. We heard civil rights icon Julian Bond speak at Alabama State University, visited the National Voting Rights Museum in Selma, Alabama and heard a detailed recounting of Bloody Sunday – when six hundred protesters, marching in remembrance of Jimmie Lee Jackson’s death, faced billy clubs from police officers.

But it was also important to hear about these issues in the context of the twenty-first century. An archivist at the Southern Poverty Law Center spoke about Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, a 2012 book on the War on Drugs and mass incarceration. We saw the urban blight of several Southern cities – the lack of jobs, affordable housing and quality education. Chandra Guinn, the director of the Mary Lou Williams center and a staff member on the Roots to Rights trip, said that the Confederate monument for Duke is the Aycock East Campus dorm. I had conversations with several fellow students like Daniel Kort, Aubrey Temple and Richard Phillips about the fractured social circles at Duke. And Ms. Guinn challenged me when I spoke of “self-segregation” at Duke as coming from a point of privilege.

The essence of the trip weren’t the visits to the birth or death places of Martin Luther King Jr., or the consumption of good soul food or the meaningful conversations I had with students and staff members. It was the combination of it all. This trip has undoubtedly given me new perspectives on civil rights, both fifty years ago and in the present moment.

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The Need to Pay Attention

Prospective Biology & Theater Studies Major

In the past few days, I've traveled to Charlotte, Atlanta, Montgomery, Selma, and Birmingham with the 2014 Roots to Rights trip. We've visited a number of Civil Rights monuments and important locations, namely the King Center and MLK's birthplace in Atlanta, the Civil Rights Memorial in the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, and the Voting Rights Museum in Selma. 

It's been a lot to do in a short span of time, but the experience has been nothing but eye-opening and sobering. Walking through museums memorializing those who were murdered, beaten, lynched, abused physically and mentally, I began to fully understand what was being faught for and the sacrifices that thousands of people made to stand up for human rights. For the first time, I've begun to realize that, before now, I've known about the Civil Rights movement, but I haven't understood everything that it represented. It was not just a movement lead by such great people as MLK, Medgar Evers, Coretta King, and Julian Bond, but rather a movement of thousands, from all walks of life, united in nonviolent confrontation against extreme hate and violence. This does not diminish the work of their leaders, but we shouldn't forget those who were killed and injured and who we don't learn about in textbooks, those who raised their voiced against injustice just as surely as MLK, and, perhaps even more importantly, those who were killed not because of protesting or standing up for themselves but because they happened to cross paths with people who hated them for the color of their skin. One of the most profound things that I've heard in the past few days is Mrs. Till's request to give her son, Emmett Till (who was beaten to death for allegedly whistling at a white woman), an open-casket funeral, because she had had enough of the world turning a blind eye to the brutality that African Americans faced on a daily basis. We need to acknowledge and notice that these things are happening, all over the world, and we need to be vocal about it. Not acting is just as bad as actively supporting violence and hate crimes.

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The Emancipation Proclamation Challenge

I wonder if I am doing my part. On Monday as my face embraces the cold hard cement and I try to protect my bones from the cold rock of the Chapel Wing with 4 thin blankets. I am sleeping out to raise awareness about the homeless. As I wriggle endlessly against the now freezing stone my friend comes in and hands me a sleeping bag. My night has gotten just a tad bit less complicated.

As I am walking back to my room with the darkness slowly creeping away and the air getting ever thicker I am reminded that privilege is taken for granted, misused, and abused.  I am reminded that even though I am now about to experience the joy of morning, someone is about to experience the sadness of sunset.  As I walk around Duke and travel around Durham I realize that privilege comes at the cost of knowing that you are either using it to better society or not realizing its potentialities to better society.

What I mean by this is that everyone is occupying a space in which other people can be positively affected by the use of your resources. Your time, finances, creativity, resources, and etc. are what may be standing between people who are oppressed and the opportunity they need to dismount the foundations of the walls of injustice in their life. This oppression is not as evident as it was in 1863 but there is still a need for an emancipation proclamation. People still need help because oppression and injustice and the people who perpetuate them have just found the politically correct ways to hide and enhance them. Hegemony is real and evident and as students, professors, administrators, and etc. we have the power to make the changes that we want to see now.

With that said I implore everyone to ask themselves what they are passionate about. What are the places of oppression that touch you? Who can you get involved with that is already doing work in Duke and or Durham? Also understand that if you do not feel passionate about any issue that you have heard about, there is probably a system of injustice that is happening in front of your eyes and yet under your nose. Continue asking questions about what you are passionate about and I am sure that you will find that special issue that make you use privilege to empower and not over power those who are in the clutches of injustice.

Let us all remember that oppression, inequality, and unfair treatment are always around us. We have not been given all the resources that we have in life to merely throw it by the wayside. No now is the opportunity to march against injustice one step at a time. This is not something that I would implore of incapable bodies. Rather this is something that only the some of the best student’s professors, administrators, and etc. in the world could be called to do. The only question now is, will you accept the challenge?


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Come Celebrate Mary Lou Day!!!

The Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture
Cordially Invites You to Enjoy A Late Afternoon Delight
featuring Live Jazz & Fabulous Dessert

Thursday, May 1, 2014
3:00 - 5:00
Mary Lou Williams Center
201 West Union Building

In celebration of YOU, our 30th Anniversary & in gratitude for another successful year...
In honor of our namesake’s 103rd birthday & 
In gratitude for the awesome service of our graduating student staff!!! 


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Why “Circa 1963”?

Each year we seek to make the Abele Awards an extra special event by theming it with something from the history/creative genius of Black life.  In the past, we’ve honed in on the Harlem Renaissance, contemporary Hip Hop, and The Wiz. This year we take  for our inspiration both the year of integration at Duke and the sound of Motown. We imagine that young people in 1963 had to be listening to the “sound of young America” as artists like, Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, The Temptations, Mary Wells, The Marvelettes, and The Vandellas played on their record players. Thus, the sound of Motown would have been spinning on their record players, as the world would have been spinning toward equality.

We have designed an Abele Awards that continues to highlight the contributions of Black students annually, and that honors what five courageous "crossovers" did in the evolution of a world class university! This year's Abele Awards is a tribute to 1963 and the Motown Sound. In our planning we seek to honor the style and significance of the Motown era by designing the space to emulate elements one would expect to see from that era.  Our research has included menu, video, songs, attire, people, and history. We are hoping to bring all of that alive in this “Circa 1963.”

So, the 27th Annual Abele Awards, seeks to turn the Searle Center into a musical soundstage that brings the music of Detriot to Durham on Saturday, April 13th, 2013 at 6PM.  Join us in our celebration of Black student excellence!

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The Sound of Motown in The Mary Lou

As the Mary Lou Williams Center is engaged in honoring the legacy of those first Black Undergraduates who came to Duke in 1963, we have begun to imagine that time and space.  We imagine that some of them would have been watching the news and would have seen James Meredith graduate from Ole’ Miss.  We imagine that weeks before entering Duke, some of them would have just heard Rev. King at the March On Washington. 

And, all of them would have been listening to the burgeoning sounds of Detroit emanating from Berry Gordy’s Motown.  We imagine that many of them would have been listening to singers like Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, The Temptations, Mary Wells, The Marvelettes, and The Vandellas. Thus the Sound of Motown would have be spinning, as the world would have been spinning toward equality.

With beauty, drama, talent, and intrigue all a part of the Motown legacy, we thought it important to showcase “the music of the 60’s” as an homage to our beginnings.  Come see our new “wall” exhibit as it uses albums, images, and all things “sparklely” to highlight the legacy of Motown, as both a reminder of 1963 and as foreshadowing to our upcoming Abele Awards, entitled “circa 1963.”

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Black Student Alliance Invitational 2013

While you've probably heard a lot about Duke, this is the time when you come see for yourselves. We believe you will come away informed, inspired and impressed and in fact have been working hard to make sure of it.  We know you all have a choice - and so we are grateful that you have chosen to give us the chance to show you the Duke that is so special to us.  

Below (and attached) is the schedule that gives you a sense of what will be going on. Should you have questions about this weekend’s events, please do not hesitate to contact us via email (mlw@studentaffairs.duke.edu) or phone 919.684.3814.


Duke University’s Black Student Alliance Invitational 2013
Thursday, March 28 – Sunday, March 31

At-A-Glance Schedule
Events are open to the Duke community unless otherwise noted.


Thursday, March 28
8:00 am – 4:00 pm                                      Students Arrive & Registration [WEST UNION, OLD TRINITY ROOM/ROOM107]

8:00 am – 4:00 pm                                      Classes

9:00 am – 4:00 pm                                      Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture Open House

10:00 am & 12:00 pm                                 Tours of West Campus
11:00 am & 1:00 pm                                   Tours of West Campus

2:00 pm – 4:00 pm                                      Chapel Climb sponsored by Black Campus Ministries

5:30 pm – 8:30 pm                                      Welcome Reception & Dinner [P-Frosh & Special Invitation ONLY]

10:00 pm – 12:00 am                                  Midnight Bowling w/ 2016 [P-Frosh, Hosts & Special Invitation ONLY]

Friday, March 29

8:00 am – 11:30 am                                   Classes

8:00 am – 11:30 am                                   Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture Open House

11:30 pm – 1:30 pm                                   Engineering Lunch hosted by NSBE with Pratt Faculty & Tour of Facilities OR Getting What You Came For: Resources & Opportunities Program (Trinity)

2:00 pm – 4:00 pm                                     50 Years Forward: A Faculty Forum on Duke & the Global Future

4:30 pm – 7:00 pm                                    Students of the Caribbean Association (SOCA) presents Caribana

8:00 pm – 10:00 pm                                   National Pan-Hellenic Council hosts BSAI Step Show

10:00 pm – 12:00 am                                 Game Night (NCAA MBBall, Wii, Spades, Dominoes, etc)

11:00 pm – 2:00 am                                   National Pan-Hellenic Council hosts Step Show After Party                                                              

Saturday, March 30 

10:00 am – 11:00 am                                 Bus Tour of Durham [Breakfast provided] (optional) OR  Breakfast @ The Marketplace

11:15 am – 12:30 pm                                  “What’s the Real Deal”  [P-Frosh ONLY]

1:00 pm – 3:00 pm                                      College 101: Mini-Classes w/Faculty

4:00 pm – 6:00 pm                                      DukeAfrica presents Jabulani Cultural Showcase   

6:00 pm – 7:00 pm                                      BSAI Farewell & Slideshow [P-Frosh ONLY]

8:00 pm – 9:30 pm                                      Artful Beginnings: An Evening of Black Excellence (Art Exhibit & Spoken Word)

10:00 pm – 2:00 am                                    From ’63 to Infinity: An Evening of Black Excellence (The Soundtrack of a Half-Century)

Sunday, March 31

Departures throughout the day

6:30 am – 7:30 am                                        Easter Sunrise Service

9:00 am & 11:00 am                                     Easter Sunday Service

We look forward to seeing you during BSAI 2013!!!

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My BSAI experience was amazing

by Dorielle Obanor

Every Spring I can expect for the chronicle to release an article or op-ed piece challenging the necessity of Duke’s Black Student Alliance Week. Programs such as these promote self-segregation, racial division, and an unrounded experience of Duke these articles assert. Personally, I have grown tired of these wrongly aimed and ill-informed articles, as many with strong convictions have neither participated in BSAI events nor have taken the time to speak with attendees.

My BSAI experience was amazing. For me, BSAI weekend was important opportunity for me to experience what being a black student is like at Duke a predominately white institution. Furthermore, it allowed me to assess the amount of support and solidarity both within the black community and outside. Having several prestigious schools on my list, I wanted to ensure that wherever I attended I would feel not only comfortable but also supported as a minority student. Throughout my weekend I interacted not only with black members of the Duke community, but several p-frosh who were there for scholarship interviews as well as various friends and acquaintances of my host. I left BSAI with a strong conviction that Duke University was the best fit for me, and that weekend is one of the main reasons why I ultimately decided to attend Duke. Because of this, I undoubtedly support the efforts of this weekend.

This year we celebrate 50 years of black students at Duke, retrospectively 50 years is not a long time ago. Weekends like BSAI are extremely important in ensuring not only diversity at Duke but showing black students that Duke is an environment where all can flourish and be supported. While this short weekend is merely a glimpse of the Duke experience it is useful and necessary. This year, I challenge my peers to take the time to experience the step show, Jabulani, discussion panels, and performers that BSAI showcases, rather then taking to the chronicle to criticize the weekend. Take the time to speak with p-frosh that come from across the country, the students at Duke that commit their time and energy in to putting the weekend on, and I’m sure you’ll realize how impactful and important BSAI is.

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Through The Years

With all of this talk about celebrating the 50th anniversary of Black Student Life at Duke University, the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture wanted to make sure that it was central to this commemoration.   As such, “Through The Years” is a photographic exhibit that looks back – Sankofa – at Black Student Life.  The mostly Black and White pictures seek to showcase eras of Black life that include Duke’s first students, periods of protest, organizations, and “Chronicle” articles.  Crystal Fuller, curator of the exhibit, is hoping that the “snap shots” provide insight into the unique experiences of integrating one of the world’s best universities.  Join us as we take a sneak peak into the Black Student experience at Duke University by visiting the center to witness “Through The Years.”

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A Check We Can Cash: Reflecting on King Holiday

by Sean H. Palmer, Assistant Director, MLWC

As we turn our attention to our annual observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday, we continue to be reminded that we live in an interesting time of contradictions.  A Black man remains president (and will be inaugurated), but Blacks are unemployed at twice the rate of the entire country.  We continue to celebrate the notion of freedom through our observance of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation as movies like “Lincoln” explore the notion of slavery in the Civil War…at the same time over 300 Black and Brown children died last year in the streets of Chicago due to an inability to create solutions for gun control and gang violence.  We commemorate “The March on Washington,” yet controversial “Stand Your Ground Laws” are used in vigilante justice most notably against black teens like Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis. 

And here at Duke, we begin our year-long commemoration of Black Student Integration (50 years), even as “slave” action-figures are being sold to the public on websites like Amazon in conjunction with Quentin Tarantino’s racially charged movie, “Django.” When King offered that he had a dream in his eminent “March On Washington Address” in 1963, I don’t believe that his dream foretold of this reality.  Yes, my friends, race and racism are complicated conceptual frameworks as we stand in the doorway between our reality and historical memory.  King’s prophetic imagination had hoped for mutual love and respect, helping to sequester domestic terrorism.  And, 50 years after that speech, and 100 years after a group of Black women (who called themselves Deltas) organized to march for women’s suffrage, and 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, we find ourselves facing many of the same challenges of racism, albeit in new ways.

When King offered early in his profound speech that, “instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds,’” I wonder if he thought that by now we would be able to cash this check for justice, equity, and equality?  While much has changed in the ability for people of color to move “freely” in society, much has remained the same in regards to access, equity, and justice. Scholars like Adolph Reed have remarked that Black people have been getting symbolic justice…and symbolic justice isn’t actually justice.  Contrary to popular opinion and praxis, populating Black faces around hostile policies don’t, in fact, make the policies more palatable.   And while some might be confused for a season, the voices of Dr. King et al. continue to ring true.  We cannot get lost in the chorus of Hosannas as we teeter on the cliff of obscurity.

While many of us praise God for faith in the efforts to persevere in spite of what we see, King reminds us to remain vigilant to the case for freedom.  While we protest the various disparities of the day, King reminds us to remain committed to the task of equality and justice.  While we seek the power to control our personal destinies, King reminds us that love must be coupled with power if we are to ever use this gift of power wisely.  And, we persevere because we believe in humanity beyond degradation and volatility. Thus, we invite you to join us as we remember our roots and expand our reach in 2013. We invite you to visit our office as we reflect on “Praise | Protest | Power | Perseverance,” in our newest wall exhibition. Finally, we invite you to join us as we seek to cash a check that has the possibility of provision for all of the world’s people.

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Reflecting on Collective Work and Responsibility

by Sean H. Palmer

It is on the eve of the 50th anniversary of Black Student Life that we pause to think about the principal of Ujima in our annual Kwanzaa Celebration. Since restarting this tradition in 2010, Duke’s Kwanzaa celebration has sought to lift up one principal each year in the hopes of honoring each principal in a seven-year cycle.

As we turn our attentions to Ujima’s meaning--collective work and responsibility--we are reminded of the depth of sacrifice by the first five undergraduate students and the first three graduate students. Out of their work and responsibility, Duke’s Black community came into fruition, bearing much fruit that has culminated in the creation of a progressive and giving professional class. We stand on the shoulders of the many brothers and sisters who created success out of hardship, persevered in spite of alienation, and excelled in response to obstacles. It is out of this commitment that we recognize our responsibility to making a better Duke. And, it is only through our collective work as advocates, organizers, researchers, writers, and performers that we make our indelible impression upon this place.

It is through Kwanzaa that we reflect on all that has been done, and all that must be done. We, thus, seek to invite all students of Pan-African descent to join in African drumming, a libation ceremony, and Karamu (meaning big feast). Kwanzaa is but one way we help people of African descent explore and appreciate both differences and similarities within Duke’s community. 

Join us in deep reflection, celebration and fellowship, tonight at 7:10 pm in the Mary Lou Center for Black Culture.

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Wrapped In Red for World AIDS Week

by Sean H. Palmer

While there is much to celebrate by way of progress, AIDS-related illnesses have claimed the lives of 25 million people worldwide, the majority of its victims in Sub-Saharan Africa.  In the United State the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that Blacks account for nearly half of the people living with a diagnosis of HIV infections in 37 states. At some point in our lifetimes, an estimated 1 in 16 Black men and 1 in 32 Black women will be diagnosed with HIV infection. In North Carolina, Blacks comprise 66% of the reported cases, with Black men being the most at risk (compromising nearly 57% of the cases statewide).  Unfortunately, misinformation, poverty, sexual stigma, and institutional oppression continue to contribute to the spread of HIV/AIDS within the Black community.

It is with this knowledge that the Mary Lou Williams Center seeks to bring attention to the HIV/AIDS epidemic and its effects in the Black Community, by participating in World AIDS Week in collaboration with many other partners from our Duke community.  This year, we are “Wrapped In Red” on Wednesday, November 28, 2012 as we seek to transform our center into a place of learning, understanding, and healing.  Through a showing of the movie “Life Support” at lunch, we seek to examine the life of a mother living with AIDS.  Later in the evening, we will share in a robust dinner and discussion as we watch the recent documentary “Endgame: AIDS In Black America.”  And for dessert at nine that evening, we will experience the beauty of the arts, as local artists turn their attention to HIV/AIDS in an exhibition that features a libation/litany, spoken word, live instrumental music, and singing.

It is our sincere hope that World AIDS Week will have the effect of raising awareness and consciousness.  It is through “Wrapped In Red,” that we hope to ensure that friends, family and community members are never forgotten by vocalizing on Wednesday…and on Saturday we fall silent (in the center) with the hope of encouraging reflection on how we might participate in efforts to support, free, and heal our brothers and sisters around the world. 

Join us, and wrap your Black self in Red!

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My Roots to Rights Experience

by Matthew Schorr, T'14

This past spring, ten of my peers and I had the privilege of participating in Roots to Rights, a civil rights tour of the American South, sponsored by Jewish Life at Duke and the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture. The program focused on black and Jewish struggles for civil rights, which, as we learned, share much in common. Over the course of our six-day journey, we spent time in Charlotte, Atlanta, Selma, Montgomery, Birmingham, and Memphis, cities that played central roles in American civil rights history. In each city, we explored museums, monuments, and historical sites; for instance, a highlight of our trip was visiting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birth home. Perhaps our favorite moments of the trip, however, were spent talking to individuals who have personally fought in the struggle for civil rights. These individuals included those who fought injustices during the famous Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, as well as their successors, who have followed in their footsteps and carry on the struggle today. Each stop on our trip gave us invaluable insight into not only the history of our country, but also our personal histories and the histories of our ancestors.

While sightseeing and exploring were important parts of our experience, the most valuable part, in my opinion, was the intellectual and cultural exchange that took place among the program’s participants, who came from different backgrounds, knew different cultures, and embodied different values and beliefs. Although we were timid and each knew few of the other participants when the trip began, we became fast friends. As we spent time together, learned together, and learned about each other, we became increasingly comfortable around each other. We opened up, sharing our views on race and religion, recounting our personal experiences, and teaching each other about our respective cultures. There was no stupid question, as we recognized how much remained for all of us to learn. In a few days, we uncovered countless fascinating similarities, and just as many intriguing differences among the members of our group. In less than one week, we understood our country, each other, and ourselves better than we could have imagined at the beginning of the trip. Roots to Rights was one of the highlights of my Duke experience, and I strongly encourage all students to apply to participate in the program. 

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Giant Steps: Preparing for "Election Affection" in The Age of Barack Obama

by Sean H. Palmer

Only four short years ago Black undergraduate students crowded into the the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture on November 4th.   Off-campus, our Black grauduate students gathered at a local apartment complex community area. Both groups prepared to witness what would be a historic election as Barack Obama became the first American President with African ancestry. 

At first, he captured our hopes and dreams as people who understood the realities of glass ceilings. Obama stood as a signifier of acheivement and access. However, his first term as president has been marred with a variety of issues that invite the question of how race intersects public interest and politics. From questions about his origin of birth to his signature health care initiative, Obama has “colored” American politics, and has been met with a variety of resistance that have most African-Americans quietly reflecting on the lingering racial antagonism of American politics. 

At the same time, there are a few vocal Black folk who are challenged by Obama’s political agenda even as Black people have remained committed to supporting him. His committment around Gay Rights, The Jewish State and Immigrants have conjured the question by some who say, “Obama, what are your committments to Black People?”  It is with these questions, musings, and experiences in Black Life in mind that we present on Election Day 2012, our “Election Affection.”

Throughout the days before in the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture, students will be asked to examine their own political convictions as they contemplate what their vote means (has meant) in this historical moment. Unlike four years ago, we have asked our graduate and professional students to lead conversations on a variey of topics that help us consider important intersections. At the same time we have created two exhibits that ask us to consider that Obama's "race" to the White House has been premised on many other African American hopefuls. With the help of our Graduate Fellow, it is our hope that our conversations (over a two day period) have provided some new facet to consider until the polls close, at which point the center will become an Election Party filled with students, staff, and hopefully a few faculty who continue to stand on the “Eve” of history.  It is our goal to create space that engender discussion, community, engagement and activism.

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