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BSA's Black Power Rally gives space for grievances and solutions

November 6, 2017
A student performs her spoken word piece at the Black Power Rally on Sunday. Photo by Maxwell Evans.
A student performs her spoken word piece at the Black Power Rally on Sunday. Photo by Maxwell Evans. —

Sunday's Black Power Rally, presented by MSU's Black Student Alliance, never promised to make anyone comfortable.

In fact, it was exactly the opposite, right from the beginning. The event opened with the disclaimer that sensitive subjects and potentially offensive language would be tackled, while encouraging audience members to accept the uncomfortable moments. From there, passionate performances, a keynote speaker and a multi-act play drove home a common theme: being black is a struggle, but through a united effort, those obstacles can be overcome.

The event, in its 45th year, has built up a reputation for pushing attendees' buttons in a way that promotes action. Interdisciplinary studies junior Mishalay Leonard hadn't been to a Black Power Rally before, but wanted to attend after hearing the effect past rallies had on others.

"I came out because I hadn't actually been yet, and I really wanted to be a part of it because I heard it motivates people and it's really interesting," Leonard said. 

From the first dance to the final performance — a black-power remix of Kanye West's "Jesus Walks" — rally participants narrowed in on campus life. Performers and audience members alike voiced numerous frustrations with the MSU student body and administration.

The opening words from interdisciplinary studies senior Ashley Carr's speech: "Being black at MSU makes me so upset sometimes." Keynote speaker Angela Rye thanked President Lou Anna K. Simon early in her appearance, a move that was met with a tepid, seemingly anxious response from the crowd. After the event, Leonard said attending classes can sometimes make her feel out of place on a predominantly white campus, an emotion nearly every student performer of the night also expressed.

Interdisciplinary studies senior Charneice Lang was, along with Carr, one of two student speakers at the rally. Giving her speech right before the night's intermission, Lang pointed to racially motivated incidents as proof MSU needed to do more to address racism on campus. She even took it a step further, saying if the university wasn't willing to act, some students would begin to fight back for themselves.

"The ICA program and the OCAT office cannot be the only visible promoters of inclusion on our campus," Lang said. "These incidents have skewed our campus primarily from being on edge to being downright fed up. For some of us, the next act of injustice we see, it's hands on sight." 

This wasn't a pity party or a defiant show of aggression, though. For nearly every frustration voiced, a solution was offered or motivation was attempted, even by audience members. During the intermission, Robinson said one way MSU could make gains towards true inclusion was by making racial sensitivity training mandatory for students, as RVSM training currently is.

"When we come on campus, we are required to do this sexual assault and equity training," Robinson said. "Our StuInfo and our grades will be blocked if we don't. But as far as diversity and inclusion training ... it isn't required. It's like less pressure. Diversity and inclusion is less stressed on this campus." 

The audience was largely animated and loud throughout, but some wondered whether that excitement would translate into sustained motivation. Although she believed the rally was successful in balancing frustrations with solutions, recent journalism graduate Amber Howard was less sure that students would hold on to the lessons from the rally once they left the auditorium.

"It depends on who you are," Howard said. "I want to say for the first couple days, yeah it does. But if you're not actively involved in your community, and what happens in the world doesn't really affect you, you're not going to try to change." 

In her speech to close out the night, Rye specifically tried to prevent that energy from fading. The political strategist and CNN contributor repeatedly stressed the importance of "having an agenda" and clear goals for change when fighting oppression. She implored students to act now, to not wait around for the next exciting event to fight for the changes they want to see on campus.

"We don't have time for another dinner, another Black Power Rally," Rye said. "Let us not get to Black Power Rally 46, and we have not harnessed our collective power." 

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