Black Power Rally: A Level Up
The 40th Annual Black Power Rally, hosted by Michigan State University’s Black Student Alliance, was less about empowerment and more about raising awareness of what black power means.
The occasion was held at the Pasant Theatre in the Wharton Center. Seats were packed; some members of the audience sat on the stairs and many did not make it inside at all. The audience was as large as it was diverse; the majority consisted of Black-Americans with a considerable amount of White, African and Asian attendees present. Students, families and otherwise came to witness what BSA, Office of Intercultural Aide and Associated Students of MSU-along with other involved organizations- had to offer for a little over 2 hours.
Kicking off with a slideshow of historic pictures and quotes, Leticia Gittens sang the “Black National Anthem” while surrounded by recognized black leaders on MSU’s campus. Libations for black cultural figures were also held, giving the night a more solemn atmosphere. The evening, however, was by no means dull.
Varied and various performances were offered to a receptive audience. Patricia Jackson gave a rendition of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”, with a poetic twist by Quinton Robinson and Rashad Timmons on the keyboard. A skit about the accepting one’s own decisions and striving for more opened Giordan Gibson and Tori Franklin’s set, both of whom provided a gracious Hip-Hop performance. The African Student Union provided both performance and dance, reminding the audience of the roots from which much of today’s music and rhythms were born. The audience stayed intrigued, so much so that even the intermission songs rallied a sing or rap along.
Where the performances carried the energy, the speakers defined the evening. Student speaker Shaina Wilson delivered a speech that dealt with the misunderstanding of the black power phrase, that black power has never preached racial superiority as critics would claim, but is used by all who are underprivileged- not just blacks- to “uplift each other.” It’s a phrase that represents conviction, a bypassing of struggle to form a stronger community.
The thought is not novel. The slideshow in the introduction displayed a quote by charter member of the original Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, Huey P. Newton, which read, “Black Power is giving power to people who have not had the power to determine their destiny.” In the United States, black power primes thoughts of Black-Americans decades ago, but the meaning has always gone beyond race, even if that was the starting point.
In the 21st century, however, this layer of diversity has become more apparent and critical. In addition to the elements of solely black pride, problems and culture, this higher meaning held center stage as the message to walk away with. Race, gender, sexual orientation and economic underrepresentation all represent black power.
Keynote speaker, Professor Angela Davis, delivered a speech that may have seemed more of a lecture meant to teach. Echoing the sentiments of Newton and Wilson and openly speaking on her problems with the law, she also spoke on the institutionalization of many issues: racism, intimate violence vs. police brutality, feminism, and how people need to understand the capitalistic society we live in if any real change is wanted. People not only need to understand, but fight on as a community with proper perspective. Noting how not just young adults, but the United States as a whole has a case of “historic amnesia”: forgetting the roots of their environment and culture. Professor Davis did not get to finish her talking points- she was about to speak on the possible abolition of punishment as the primary form of jail reform before she cut herself short- but still left everyone with a poignant message that could not end in any other way but applause.
The theme of this Black Power Rally was Olympian, the tagline, “On Your Mark: It’s Our Race!” Since America’s inception, and even before, the most emphasized example of the American struggle has been black people as a community. While certain issues have gotten better, politically and otherwise, the race is far from finished. The current generation, in the wake of the 21st century, holds the baton passed down from our parents, grandparents and ancestors, and it’s a long ways away before it passes into the hands of future generations. If the message of the evening was received, then the question now is not what black power means, but what statement “the unique wonder, which is our race”, (Wilson) wishes to make as we dash forward.
The world is watching, and this is no time to stumble.
—Kristopher Jordan-Taylor Johnson