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Monday, Apr 15, 2024

Black Student Union holds Apollo Night, Soul Food Sunday and other celebrations for Black History Month

In celebration of the month of February as Black History month, the Black Student Union (BSU) has held events including Apollo Night and Soul Food Sunday, along with the upcoming Night of Black Culture. 

The BSU hosted its traditional Apollo Night in Coltrane Lounge on Feb. 22, an open-microphone style event in which participants come to the stage to share artistic expression centered around the primacy of the voice — mainly spoken poetry, acapella music and short speeches. 

The size of the audience ranged from approximately fifteen to twenty people over the course of the event, and the participants included both previously registered performers and audience members who felt spontaneously moved to share in the Apollo Night environment. 

Performances at the Apollo Night gathering ranged from renditions of famous works of written art by celebrated Black artists — Nina Simone, Audre Lorde and June Jordan all featured prominently — to the sharing of original compositions by members of the BSU and non-members alike. Many of the performances centered around the realities of Black life and experiences, both at Middlebury and beyond. 

In addition to Apollo Night, the BSU incorporated into its Black History Month programming a workshop with Justalks on Feb. 15 that dealt with Black romance on campus, a ceramics-making event on Feb. 16 and a meditation space in collaboration with the Center for Health and Wellness on Feb. 20. 

BSU Co-President Arsema Lecko ’26 explained that the current format of the BSU represents a marked change to how the group previously went about organizing administrative duties and group events.

“This summer, we introduced the new positions and we threw out a lot of ideas for meeting ideas and event ideas. We were all feeling very passionate about the opportunities,” Lecko told The Campus. “As we were planning for Black History Month in the fall and over winter break, we went back to the list from the summer.”

Some events like the Apollo Night are an annual tradition for the BSU and are easy to incorporate into the slate of events for Black History Month, BSU Co-President Cynthia Walton ’25 explained.

“It’s traditional, and it is written into our budget. It’s something that we definitely want to do and will continue doing,” Walton said. 

After Apollo Night concluded, Lecko explained to The Campus the history of its venue, Coltrane Lounge, and the lounge’s strong ties to both the Black Student Union and extended the Black community on the Middlebury campus. 

“In the 1980s, after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., the Middlebury admissions office elected to admit 16 Black students, which was the largest class of Black students in the school’s history,” Lecko said. “The admitted Black students advocated for having a space for them, because they didn’t feel safe anywhere on campus. They were gifted Coltrane, named after John Coltrane, and since then Coltrane has been an important center for Black students.”

Lecko added that since the return of students to campus after the Covid-19 pandemic, the administration has slowly expanded the function of Coltrane Lounge to be used by the entire student body, thereby restricting the ability of the BSU to host social events and keep the space as their own. 

“We have to book Coltrane now, and we are not allowed to throw parties here, and we have so many restrictions. It’s not our space anymore. We try to do all of our meetings and the majority of events in here to honor the people who fought so hard to have that space before us,” Lecko explained. 

On Feb. 25, the BSU hosted Soul Food Sunday, a dinnertime group meal in the Anderson Freeman Center. 

Like Apollo Night, Soul Food Sunday came together from the efforts of both BSU members and non-members, resulting in a diverse selection of fresh, home-cooked foods available for attendees to eat. 

Walton explained that the food options available at the Soul Food Sunday gathering represented Black identities and cultural fixtures beyond America. 

“We have people making soul food not just from America, but from so many different countries, including Caribbean countries,” she said.

The BSU is currently in the middle of planning their Night of Black Culture, an annual festivity that celebrates graduating Black seniors. Lecko noted that the BSU leadership is looking to expand the programming of their Night of Black Culture for this year’s celebration. 

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“We have performers, and we have dancers, and this year we are really trying to make it bigger. We’re trying to bring in a performer or a poet, with the help of MCAB and organizations like that,” Lecko said.

Both Walton and Lecko emphasized that Black History Month does not only include remembering the events of Black history, but also involves engaging with present and future understandings of Black life, bundling into one month of reflections on history, discussions of the present, and aspirations and goal-setting for the future. 

“We’re trying to continue Black History Month by telling people that you’re Black all the time. It’s not just one month, which happens to be the shortest month of the year,” Walton said. “Black History Month is Black past, Black present and Black future.”

Cole Chaudhari

Cole Chaudhari ’26 (he/him) is a News Editor. 

He previously served as a Copy Editor and as a Staff Writer. Cole is double-majoring in History and English & American Literatures and is interning this semester at the New England Review.