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Wabruda events honor black history

Katie Peralta | Tuesday, February 26, 2008

This weekend’s inaugural Black History Conference underscored the importance of remembering and celebrating black history through cultural immersion in a series of lectures on campus and a visit to Underground Railroad landmarks in southern Michigan.

The conference was sponsored by the Notre Dame student group Wabruda in honor of Black History Month. Wabruda, a group whose name means “brother” in Swahili, promotes brotherhood and leadership among black men on campus.

Two-year Wabruda president, senior William David Williams, said he envisioned the Conference a year ago but began planning the event in December.

The Conference was designed to address black history and its effects on American society today, Williams said.

“I think that we commit cultural genocide by ignoring these issues,” Williams said.

Presentations given by three speakers Saturday attracted about 100 students, faculty, staff and community members, he said.

A planned lecture by Reginald Robinson, a professor at Southern Illinois University, was prevented from reaching campus by bad weather. In his stead, James Ford, a graduate student at Notre Dame, discussed reconstructing the record of black history. Ford spoke of the need for black Americans to know and appreciate where they came from, a theme Williams said was central to the conference.

After Ford’s talk, Verge Gillam, founder of the Association of African-American Role Models (AAARM), spoke about the Underground Railroad. Gillam discussed black history during the era of the Civil War and the impact of black migration northward.

Saturday’s final presentation featured Bishop Gideon Adjei, founder of Crystal Horizons Investment and father of Notre Dame junior Alvin Adjei.

His lecture, called “Visions for Victory,” focused on the number of different platforms on which people must focus in order not only to achieve equality in society, but also to better the world.

Adjei began by introducing himself as the descendent of Ghanaian slave traders. He apologized to the black community for his family’s help in selling many blacks into slavery. He noted that his ancestors were unaware of the inhumane treatment that they were to receive upon arrival in the Americas.

“On behalf of the South Bend and Notre Dame communities, I accepted his apology,” G. David Moss, assistant vice president with the Office of Student Affairs and advisor for Wabruda, said.

Moss said Adjei’s public apology was one of the most profound aspects of the Conference for him.

“We can now look past this since we have reconciled and look at what we can do to move on,” Moss said.

Adjei discussed a number of different areas, or “visions,” on which to focus, from regaining spirituality to strengthening family relationships to taking care of education, which he said is “the key to success.”

Adjei said there is a need for universal betterment of society, regardless of race, age or socioeconomic status.

“These visions for victory can be applied to anyone,” Adjei said.

Saturday’s events closed with a performance by spoken word artist Taalam Acey at Legends, where the Conference saw its highest attendance with more than 100 audience members, Williams said.

Sunday’s activities took participants out of the classroom with an excursion into southern Michigan to view a number of important Underground Railroad sites, including a visit to the Underground Railroad Cemetery in Vandalia, Mich., a family farm in Paw Paw, Mich., and the Sojourner Truth statue in Battle Creek, Mich.

Williams and Moss both said they were pleased with Sunday’s turnout, particularly with the numbers of South Bend community members.

“It was a successful way of building the community between Notre Dame and South

Bend,” Moss said.

Many community members shared their personal histories of the Underground Railroad with the Wabruda members.

“The Conference really aimed to create some dialogue,” Moss said. “The more we can talk about these issues honestly, the more the Notre Dame community can move forward.”