When she arrived at the University, Uma Jalloh, current president of the University’s Organization of African Students, wanted to showcase her personal experience as a first-generation college student. Her parents are immigrants from Guinea, but Jalloh was born in the U.S. After moving back to Guinea for a brief period of time, she returned to the United States and has lived in America since the age of six. She describes her experience of coming to America as a time of self-discovery and a chance to find her true identity, which blends both African and American culture.
When Jalloh was a first-year at the University, her sister, Mariama Jalloh, was the president of OAS. That year, Jalloh participated in Africa Day — a show that communicates the story of reclaiming the Pan-African identity through the medium of artistic expression — as a model. Through OAS, she developed great friendships and found a home for herself on Grounds. She was inspired by her sister’s dedication to the organization and is grateful to have followed her path.
The fifth annual Africa Day celebration, held Saturday, March 23, in the Newcomb Ballroom, featured artistic forms such as theatre, spoken word, a fashion show and dance. This year, Africa Day was called “Negritude” to emphasis black pride and the importance of believing in your color.
Jalloh defines Negritude as “the disavowing of colonialism and accepting the Pan-African race.”
The performance was divided into three distinct sections — Novice, Generation Z and AfroTopia. The sections were in chronological order, representing the evolution of black expression in America and the movement towards empowerment.
Artists in the Novice section of the performance used their clothing, words and facial expressions to depict the arrival of Africans in America and subsequent new beginnings. The first performer of the night, third-year College student Essey Abebe, authored a poem titled Origin, which discussed the issues of identity and acceptance. This portion of the performance highlighted the struggle many first-generation college students face in balancing experiences in a new land and the cultures from their heritage.
Following Abebe, students walked down the runway wearing shirts with the phrase “Fresh Off the Boat” stamped across their chests. Through their body language and stoic facial expressions, students attempted to disrupt and disband forms of mistreatment, such as mockery and derogatory jokes used against immigrants.
Students performing in the Generation Z section represented the theme of striving in America to show how far first-generation college students have come. This particular segment included a number of University dance groups. The Ethiopian Eritrean Student Association and Sudanese Dance Group used body language and movement to display African expression in America. In addition, this section included a scene called “New Kids on the Block” and “Miss Independent” to signify the prevalence of African culture in America and celebrate the success of many African artists and musicians today. Models in both scenes proudly walked the runway to embrace their individuality.
Lastly, the AfroTopia portion of the show discussed the future of Africa and the hope that many first-generation college students will return to Africa to help stabilize the continent. To illustrate this, models wore luscious gowns and vibrant colors to symbolize the reclaiming of wealth.
Fourth-year College student and OAS member Komi Galli, visiting graduate student and OAS member, performed a powerful black monologue describing his struggle for acceptance and the movement towards African empowerment. Galli has been an OAS member since his first year and has watched the organization grow as new executive members continue to build off of the foundations set up by previous members.
“I have been a part of Africa Day since my first year, and it’s really great to see how it keeps evolving into something that people always look forward to,” Galli said.
The show concluded with a flag scene where students walked the runway proudly holding up the flags of African countries. The order was chronologically arranged to correspond with each country’s independence day. Audience members around the room were asked to stand up and state the country they are originally from along with their independence day. At the final walk out, performers wore shirts with “Negritude” written in the shape of the African continent.
Second-year College student Sydney Mathis attended the event to support friends in the show and the black community at large.
“It was the epitome of black power,” Mathis said.