NYU’s celebration of African Heritage Month and Martin Luther King Jr. week began on Feb. 3 with an opening ceremony celebrating Ghanaian art. The festival, co-sponsored by NYU’s African Heritage Month and Africa House, featured visual and performing arts by students and a catered dinner from Harlem’s Accra Restaurant.
A committee of undergraduate students planned the festival. Jessica Guerrero, associate director of the Center for Student Activities and the student’s faculty advisor, explained why the event focused on Ghanaian culture.
“The AHM Planning Committee members were inspired by their study abroad experience at NYU Accra,” Guerrero said. “The students felt that the NYU New York campus could greatly benefit from learning more about Ghanaian culture.”
The evening’s Ghanaian explorations commenced with visual art pieces recounting students’ visits to Accra and the singing of the National Black Anthem.
“We were looking for artists who studied abroad in Accra to create anything that came from that [experience],” Steinhardt senior and co-chair Aisha Abdelmula said. “I wouldn’t say it was more of a selective process, but it was more how we felt connected to those people.”
Following the art show, students prayed, demonstrating Ghana’s non-denominational spiritual history. Guests enjoyed an authentic Ghanaian dinner, which featured dishes such as wache, pepper sour chicken and plantains.
After dinner, a student recited a poem about African diaspora. After the poem reading, students danced and performed music in traditional and modern Ghanaian styles. The event’s co-chairs said the main theme was solidarity among those of African descent.
“It’s always been this theme of transnational solidarity, which is our theme for the month,” Steinhardt senior and co-chair Deria Matthews said. “I feel like when you talk of any black national leader, they always embody that transnational solidarity.”
Abdemula said black Amerians should celebrate their individuality.
“Being a black person in the States sometimes means you’re a representation for [all blacks], and that shouldn’t be the case,” Abdemula said. “When we talk about leaders building that bridge, that is part of highlighting how diverse we are.”
Students who attended said the art successfully conveyed these messages.
Gallatin junior Giovanna Olmos said the art inspired her and encouraged her to explore African cultures.
“[I] came here for the food, [but] left here with a lot more,” Olmos said.
Sydney-Paige Patterson, a student in the Graduate School of Arts and Science who studied in Accra as an undergraduate, was impressed by how accurately Ghana was portrayed.
“I loved hearing about everyone’s stories in Ghana,” Patterson said. “I also loved the art, music and spoken word.”
Both co-chairs said they were satisfied with the turnout and that they are looking forward to other MLK week and AHM events.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Feb. 4 print edition. Andrew Spohn is a staff writer. Email him at [email protected]