Brown Pride event encourages unity
The highlight of the night had to have been when thirty-or-so people jumped on stage and started dancing because, well, they felt like it.
The program sure didn't list a scheduled "audience dance party", nor did the night's emcees seem to know they were going to instigate one until they were instigating it. Students had just walked off after finishing a performance, and were almost immediately replaced by calls for the audience to rush on stage and dance as music played over the loudspeakers.
This is the sort of energy — seemingly unhinged, always positive — that was the dominant theme at the 14th annual Brown Pride event. The event fittingly matched the presenting organization's name, Culturas de las Razas Unidas, or CRU; people of all races and cultures came together to celebrate an ethnicity that, making up just under five percent of the student body, isn't exactly dominant on MSU's campus.
The power in events like this, for audience members and performers alike, was in creating an environment where minorities become the majority. For poet and film studies sophomore Xavier Cuevas, stage name Barely Hispanic — it's a joke, he said, he's fully Hispanic — Brown Pride was an opportunity to creatively express himself while being supported by people who shared his skin color.
In a poem in which he relayed the struggles of staying true to his background while growing up in Detroit, Cuevas touched on sometimes one of life's biggest challenges for minorities in America - just fitting in. Cuevas believes events like Brown Pride are a way to help change that.
"It's good to be in circles where people get together and are encouraging one another to be proud," Cuevas said. "I think any time any ethnic group or minority group, especially at a university, is getting together and trying to feel good and feel happy with one another, it's something worth supporting."
Keynote speaker Denice Frohman, a poet who performed at the White House in 2016, spoke on similar themes both before and during her performance. Frohman, who is Puerto Rican and Jewish, encouraged the audience to view Brown Pride as not only a fun way to spend a night, but culturally important as well.
"It's important for our community to not stay at home, to not stay in our silos and our dorm rooms, to not just talk to people that we know, but to come out and show out and show this campus what brown pride is all about," Frohman said. "We are powerful, we will not be silenced, we will not be intimidated and we will be heard."
The crowd was certainly in no mood to be silenced. Student performers Ayleen Perez and Gloria Trevino were greeted with screams from friends and former roommates as they began a mashup of "Despacito" with many other popular songs. Human development and family studies junior, Norrlyn-Michael Allen, came on stage to a yelled, "I love you, Norrlyn" before going into a poem about police brutality and the importance of black lives.
Even Frohman, the star of the night, wasn't safe from the audience's giddiness. A throwaway mention to her hometown of New York City, at the crowd's behest, turned into Frohman listing regions of the country and getting screams in response. When she at last got to shouting out the Midwest, screams filled the packed Kellogg Center auditorium that took a minute or two to rein in.
While overwhelmingly a night of positivity, there were frustrations voiced as well. Performers like MSU alumnus Francisco Velazquez made references to the government's treatment of Puerto Rico, and one of Frohman's poems used a racial incident at J.C. Penney to speak on how she feels American values are often based in fear of the "other." Nursing freshman Summer Cheney thinks Brown Pride is an important step in changing the narrative of how minorities voice their anger and their concerns with society.
"We need to be noticed for our talents," Cheney said. "We need to be noticed that we can speak other than violence. We can speak through music, poetry, we can speak through anything just to get our point across."
Cheney said events like this help members of MSU's Latino community become not only friends, but a family. Social relations and policy freshman Yolanda Gonzalez agreed, adding that for something called Brown Pride that explicitly raised up Latinos, the event should bring all Spartans towards a common cause: unity.
"This is showing us every culture, tenemos casan unidos," Gonzalez said. "We need to show support with each other, not just brown-on-brown, not black-on-black, but also brown with black, brown with white, white with black, it's everything. The much more unidas that we are, the (more) powerful that we're making this."