From left to right: ASA Member Joné Mwape, AfroMixer attendee Jeana Noel, and ASA Member Danielle Addy.
The steps moved through the dancers, their feet tapping as Afrobeat pulsed through the room. Left step, right step, left step. It flowed into their arms, the sound smooth and hypnotic. Within minutes, dancers’ entire bodies adapted to the rhythm. Left step, right step, left step.
That was the scene at the Adanti Student Center at Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU) on a recent Wednesday, as dance coordinators from the school’s African Student Association (ASA) shared a routine at their beginning-of-year AfroMixer. As it kicked off the school year with music, dance, and networking, it also brought a group’s mission into focus as students enter a new semester.
“Africa is a continent. So it’s not just one main culture and it’s not just one main religion,” said ASA President Colette Mweze. Mweze, who is Congolese and Burundian, added that the group tries to spread culture and knowledge of both Africa and the African diaspora around campus. “Over the course of years, afro beats and things like that have really come up. Now it’s kind of cool to be African in a sense.”
This year, that begins with ASA’s goals, which Mweze said are still very much in progress. Currently, they include bringing new student members into the group and onto the executive board, launching and growing a new social media presence, and planning and programming events, starting with a series of weekly meetings at the campus’ main library and a gala next month.
The team, which meets at Buley Library each Wednesday at 1 p.m., currently includes student representation from Congo, Burundi, Ghana, Togo, the Ivory Coast and Puerto Rico. In an interview with the Arts Paper, several members of the executive board said that they want to create something where fellow students can both find information on different African countries, and also feel like they have a “safe space” to express themselves and build community while they are attending Southern.
That vision recently came to life at the group’s first mixer and info session of the year, as students gathered in the Adanti Student Center to see what the association was all about. As attendees rolled in, songs by Tems and Future floated over the room. Walls and tables sported African and Afro-Caribbean flags, with representation that ranged from Egypt to Congo to the Dominican Republic. Plantains and fried “African puff-puffs,” or doughnuts, crowded a refreshment table.
The team asked attendees to play an ice breaker called “Step Forward,”in which people could step forward if a statement applied to them, and remain in place or step backwards if it did not. At first, the statements were simple: If you are a sophomore here at Southern, step forward. Some remained silly: If you find someone on the board that’s cute, step forward. Then questions got more personal, dipping into cultural identity and history. Whoever reached the other side of the room first won the game.
Members of the ASA’s executive board, who had crafted the questions, later explained that they saw it as a fun and engaging way for students to meet and interact with each other. By the end of the evening, that had rubbed off on several of the attendees too.
“I thought it was fun and enjoyable,” said sophomore Jeana Noel. “I like to see Black people knowing where they are from and just embracing their own culture.”
After a few rounds of Step Forward, attendees also learned a partial dance routine by Elijah J. Kapend-Kabwit and Joné Mwape, ASA board members and co-coordinators of the group’s dance team. Rhythmic vibrations flowed from the speakers to the soles of attendees’ shoes, a sea of legs becoming one with the beat counts.
“I love dancing in general, and I just wanted to display the beauty of African culture through dance,” Mwape said after the event. A junior majoring in health science at SCSU, he added that leadership is important to him because it nurtures “great community, like the African community, [and] Black community.”
Because there was no dance team for the group, Mwape took it upon himself to create one, co-founding it with another partner. Since, the ASA has become a significant part of his life at Southern. “It gives us a chance to gather and share experiences, gather as a family basically,” he said.
Both Mwape and fellow members of ASA leadership stressed that it’s not hard to get involved. The association’s board members hold meetings at SCSU’s Buley Library every Wednesday from 1 to 2 p.m., with an agenda that includes quick introductions, discussions, games, and event planning. It also aims to bring students in through a rotating schedule of peer-to-peer events. For instance, ASA will host a gala for Southern students on Nov. 9, and a student fashion show in the spring.
“Having a club where you’re all from the same place or similar places and countries, that helps you progress through school,” said sophomore Danielle Addy, a nursing major who is currently serving as the group’s treasurer. “I want to see our body members interact with each other, even outside of the meetings.”
Jamiah Green is a graduate of the Youth Arts Journalism Initiative, which she joined in spring 2019. She is now a junior at Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU). Read her work here. Members of the ASA team include President Colette Mweze, Vice President Amaya Owusu, Public Relations Executives Princess Adjei and Ry Williams, Co-Dance Coordinators Elijah J. Kapend-Kabwit and Joné Mwape, Secretary Brenea Pagan, Event Coordinator Chelsea Safo, Treasurer Danielle Addy, and Graduate Advisor Jacyntha Adouko.