Back 2 Black: BSU’s Annual Black Arts Festival 

Cara Le Coz, Contributing Writer

This past weekend, the University’s Black Student Union (BSU) put together their annual Black Arts Festival, consisting of a creative and inspiring Fashion Show Friday night and a spirited Stomp Out that followed on Saturday, giving the historic month of February, Black History Month, the energy we did not know we needed. Two years since the last Black Arts Festival, BSU relaunched their highly anticipated event with the theme, “Back to Black.”

We are coming back from a year that no one could’ve imagined because of the pandemic, and it can be so easy to lose sight of who you are in tragedy. For us, this was getting back to those roots of Black happiness, success, fashion, all things Black and even reminding the Bucknell community of these things,” Endia Scales ’24 said.

After not having a festival last year due to COVID, expectations were set high as BSU began preparations during the fall semester “The two biggest expectations I had for Black Arts Festival this year was for it to empower those who participated (models, hosts, those working behind the scenes, and the audience alike), as well as provide a sense of togetherness and community, and I believe that BSU accomplished just that this year as well as focus on the sense of empowerment and community because over the last two years coming together, in general, has been difficult, and I feel that it was something that Bucknellians on campus needed,” Denay Taylor ’23 said.

BSU president, Bryanni Williams ’23, warmed up the audience with her opening remarks, and the show commenced. “With all the excitement, anticipation I think this year’s events definitely changed the outlook for our community because we had many new fresh faces who participated and got to experience the magnitude of Black Arts Festival which keeps the tradition alive. For the black students here, Black Arts Festival is important and special to us because it’s our time! Our time to showcase our blackness but also to show that Bucknell is our campus just as much as it is the other students. Black Alumni come back to show love and support, local Black Student Unions and organizations join us, black Greek life is present in its entirety, and most importantly students are provided with the space to be unapologetically and authentically black,” Williams said.

The first line, African Royalty by Angel Sousani-Twumasi ’25, Oluwasefunmi Oluwafemi ’25 and Amma Boamah-Appiah ’25, highlighted traditional indigenous garments from models representing their nations.

Following a strong opening, the momentum continued with 90’s Power by Scales. “I chose the theme 90’s Power because as an early 2000’s baby, it is a period I had always adored and grew up around. I felt like it was a time when black fashion was at its prime, and I wanted to showcase that in more than one way. I also wanted an aspect of my scene to pay homage to black lives and the ongoing fight my community faces because it is something I hold dear to who I am as a black woman,” Scales said.

The Bisonettes made an appearance during the intermission and a jazzy performance from Rah Hite ’23, (shoutout to his saxophone rendition to “Weak” by SWV).

Seba Ismail ’23 and Kayla Stevens ’24 closed out the evening with three lines: Noir poked fun at the crime film genre with bold black silhouettes, Decriminalize that B***** centered around green hues inspired by the unjust incarcerations of black people due to the possession of marijuana, and Mecca flaunting the many shades of brown, a color which also has been trending lately in contemporary fashion.

Taylor reminisced on her participation in the 2020 show, “While I was a little nervous at first when I started moving down the catwalk, the outpour of applause, cheers, and support I received from the audience made me forget my nervousness and replaced it with a sense of empowerment and community, it was a great feeling!” Taylor said.

Chair of Programming for BSU, Reece Pauling ’24, concluded the event and took a moment to thank all involved behind the scenes. “There were three Fashion show Coordinators who put on two to three scenes, and there were about 30 models who were a part of this event. Getting people together for practices and working around 30+ schedules was a challenge on its own  In addition, a lot of the decorations (marquee sign and the VIP lounge Area), Tech  (TVs and Lights), and all had to be prepared ahead of time  Even to the smallest details like thanking our models and showing appreciations for our Coordinators as well as party favors for guest and water bottles with programs were essential to the set-up of the Fashion show,” Pauling said.

The show made references to Black fashion icons, such as Tupac, Rihanna, Destiny’s Child, Boyz n the Hood and Malcolm X., The main point of the show was giving credit where credit is due. The showcased styles, according to the BSU Instagram, “have influenced the mainstream for decades. However, Black artists rarely get the credit for popularizing these creations…we encourage you to look into styles that have been created today and see if they can be traced back to Black creators.” Some relevant fashion trends with ties to black culture include bucket hats, “logomania” (repeating monogrammed logo patterns), sneakers of the “sneakerhead” and “hypebeast” culture, monogrammed name necklaces and long acrylic nails. “It felt so good to have a weekend where Black excellence was exemplified for the Bucknell community.  It was a lot of hard work, but I was proud of how it turned out. My models were so unique and helped me bring my vision to the runaway through the outfits and the choreography, the energy, and the fun they had while doing it. I was on the logistics and planning end, but they were the real stars by bringing it to life, and it was an honor working with them and everyone else involved this weekend,” Scales said.

According to Step Afrika, “Stepping is a percussive, highly-energetic art form first developed through the song and dance rituals performed by African-American fraternities and sororities.  In Stepping, the body becomes an instrument, using footsteps, claps, and spoken word to produce complex polyrhythms. Stepping has been described as ‘one of the most exciting dance forms created in the 21st century.’” Rooted in African American culture dating back to the early 19th century, STOMP has become a traditional phenomenon among Black Greek organizations. The performances and energy were electric in Weis Saturday night, filling the auditorium with cheers, good music and powerful dancing. You could not help but wiggle in your seat, absorbing yourself in these remarkable performances.

Hosted by Jonathan Elliott ’25 and Taylor, the Stomp Out Classic featured competition among four Black Greek Letter organizations putting their best foot forward, along with an intermission performance from the Bisonettes. Rho Iota Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. and the Xi Kappa Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc. are the only two organizations affiliated with the University, helping to reach out to other local university organizations of the Divine Nine, which represent the nine historically Black Greek letter organizations.

Bryanni gave a final reflection on the weekend, “Black Arts Festival is a time for black students to showcase their unique personalities, identities, and the multiple variations of blackness that are most precious to us like how we express ourselves through music, fashion, dance, step, and many more. This annual event is also a time where we get to celebrate our blackness, fellowship, and showcase our creativity. After concluding a great weekend, I truly believe my team and I achieved just that—we had a great turnout at all events, had the opportunity to connect with local BSU’s and Divine 9 fraternities and sororities around the area, and inspired a number of students at Bucknell. We couldn’t be prouder,” Williams said.

Additional thanks to BSU Advocacy Chair, Hallie Robin ’22, BSU Chair of Outreach, Jerra Holdip ’23, BSU advisor Marcus Scales and all the BSU members responsible for a phenomenal program. Final thanks to the CAP Center, Multiple Cultural Students Services, Sabrina Shankar and her team for additional event help.

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