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Annual Black Convocation unites and celebrates Black community at UCLA

Pictured is the Black Convocation, a welcome event that was held Wednesday at Carnesale Commons. (Anna Dai-Liu/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Anna Dai-Liu

Oct. 15, 2023 9:28 p.m.

UCLA’s annual Black Convocation, which was held Wednesday evening, welcomed Black community members back to campus and celebrated their achievements.

Hundreds of Black students, faculty and staff gathered in Carnesale Commons for the celebration, which featured guest speakers, including California Assembly Majority Leader Isaac Bryan and Tananarive Due, a continuing lecturer of African American studies. The Primetime Drumline and the Elegant Bruinettes – UCLA’s first danceline team – also performed during the event, and attendees were invited to dance together afterward.

Torionna Simpson, a second-year pre-psychology student, said after feeling isolated last year without connections to other Black students, the event felt like a chance to find her community.

“It felt really liberating,” she said. “To be surrounded by so many Black people – my own people – it’s amazing to see what we can do.”

The convocation was co-hosted by UCLA institutions, including the Black Bruin Resource Center and the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies. However, students were heavily involved in developing the program and planning the event, said Dominique Moye, director of the BBRC.

She added that the event’s theme of “Sankofa: In This Together” – which refers to the idea of retrieving valuable knowledge from the past – was a call for unity among UCLA’s Black community.

“Remember that as Black Bruins, we truly are in this together,” she said in a speech during the event. “We stand on the shoulders of those who paved the way for us to be here.”

Black faculty and staff spoke about different ways in which students can engage with African American studies and research. Vickie Mays, a special advisor to the chancellor, said she and other members of the UCLA administration are working to make courses and research related to Black communities more accessible to students from all academic disciplines.

“It ain’t just Martin Luther King (who) had a dream,” said Mays, a distinguished professor of psychology. “I want you all to have a dream as to what you think you want to go and be in this world, and how UCLA is going to help you to meet that dream.”

Due, who teaches about Afrofuturism and Black horror, was the event’s faculty keynote speaker. In her speech, she said she hopes to teach students about the context behind social issues through the lens of Black experiences.

She added that she believes this is particularly important now as some lawmakers are prohibiting the teaching of Black history in schools.

The convocation also featured Bryan, who received his master’s in public policy at UCLA, as the alumni keynote speaker. In his speech, Bryan said that despite feeling isolated as only one of two Black students in his program and struggling financially, the community at the Bunche Center helped him gain the confidence to succeed and eventually advocate to the California State Legislature for funding for Black programs at UCLA.

He encouraged Black students to both seek support from and stand up for their community.

“Nothing we ever got on this campus didn’t come without a struggle,” he said. “We had to see flagrant racism on campus for that. We had to square up on our vice chancellors for that. … We have to fight to protect what’s ours.”

Representatives from Black student groups, such as the Afrikan Student Union and the Black Graduate Student Association, spoke at the event, with some groups also hosting tables and booths for students and community members to learn more about their work. Isaiah Clark, president of the Afro-Latinx Connection de UCLA, said his club chose to participate in order to increase representation and awareness of Afro-Latinx experiences.

“Afro-Latinx people are Black and deserve to be represented in both African and Latino spaces,” said Clark, a fourth-year sociology student. “That’s why we’re here today – bridging that gap, helping everyone feel welcome.”

It was inspiring to see so many Black students come together, particularly at a historically white institution like UCLA, he added.

Moye, who started as BBRC director in May, said she hopes to expand and amplify programs that address issues faced by Black students, such as low retention.

“I think everyone needs to … feel affirmed, encouraged and validated,” she said. “I think these types of events help us to take a pause from our everyday grind of being here and being able to say, ‘You matter. We see you. You belong here.’”

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Anna Dai-Liu | Science and health editor
Dai-Liu is the 2023-2024 science and health editor and Copy staff member. She was previously a News staff writer and is currently a third-year neuroscience and comparative literature student.
Dai-Liu is the 2023-2024 science and health editor and Copy staff member. She was previously a News staff writer and is currently a third-year neuroscience and comparative literature student.
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