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‘We’ll bring a touch of home’: Africa Week to celebrate African culture, history

| Monday, March 15, 2021

Though COVID-19 has put a dent on travel, from March 15 to 20 the Notre Dame community will have the opportunity to experience African culture through food, art exhibitions, music, dance and dramatic performances.

Every year, the African Student Association of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s (ASA) brings a touch of home” to South Bend through the club’s flagship event, Africa Night. However, ASA president, junior Trevor Lwere, said the club is aiming to cater to a broader audience through a week filled with different activities.

“We thought that a week gives us a great opportunity to do several things. Number one, to have more aspects of African culture shared,” Lwere said. “Also, with a different series of events you get to share that with more people, and so a single night couldn’t capture that.”

(Editor’s note: Trevor Lwere is a columnist for The Observer.)

Courtesy of Trevor Lwere
The African Students Association of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s (ASA) usually celebrate Africa Night, but this year due to COVID, ASA will hold a week of events.

The week will start off with a station at Duncan Student Center where ASA members will be giving out African candy and finger food and “little gifts,” like jewelry and fabric pocket squares, ASA secretary sophomore Aisha Tunkara said.

On March 16, a Global Cafe will showcase visual pieces portraying the themes of power, faith, community and resistance from United States-based African artists at LaFortune Student Center’s Ballroom from 5 to 7 p.m. 

On Friday, ASA members will be able to enjoy a club-exclusive dinner featuring African cuisine. Then, from 7 to 9 p.m. the Notre Dame community will be treated to a presentation of music, dance and theatrical performances that will be live streamed through ASA’s website and social media platforms.

Even though Africa Week will culminate with the clubs cultural presentation, Lwere said the events serve as a lead up to the inaugural Pan-African Youth Conference taking place virtually on March 27.

Entertaining, engaging and educating

For Lwere, home is some 7,589 miles away. Despite the distance — and dramatic change in weather — from Uganda, Lwere said he was able to find a sense of home within ASA.

“Our role primarily is to provide a home away from home for our members,” he said.

Though building a community with students who have roots in this continent is the clubs ultimate goal, Lwere added that the club also aims to entertain, engage and educate different groups on campus and provide a greater comprehension about what Africa is and can be through ASAs different events.

“In bringing our events forth, we are hoping that we can share more of our culture, and that they can bring about a better understanding within ourselves as Black people but also with everybody else that is interested in learning all these things,” Lwere said.

In this regard, ASA event coordinator sophomore Omolola Olagbegi said Africa Week serves as an opportunity to showcase her heritage and identity “fully and unapologetically,” something she said she finds hard to do at times as a Notre Dame student.

“Because we do go to a [predominately white college], once youre already around people with a shared heritage, or identity, you just automatically feel comfortable with them,” Olagbegi said. “Whereas, with people that are not really as familiar with your background, you feel like, ‘Ill have to explain, or maybe I can’t really say this, because they’re not going to understand. So let me just fit into the mold of what’s already the status quo.

According to the most recent data by the National Center for Education Statistics, in fall 2019, 67.1% of non-international undergraduates were white and 3.6% were Black at Notre Dame. International students accounted for 6.6% of the undergraduate student body population.

Though African and Black students are a minority on campus, Lwere said diversity should not be merely understood numerically, but also qualitatively.

“To appreciate diversity, I think this is less about having more numbers, but the critical thing is if you had just two minority students who could articulate clearly their point of view and get to have a conversation,” Lwere said. “The importance of these events is an opportunity to introduce into the Notre Dame narrative, not an alternative but different viewpoints that are equally important and valid. Because, like the dominant view, theyre also based on unique historical social circumstances.”

In Olagbegis opinion, attending Africa Week provides a unique opportunity to engage with a different culture through food — “something that unites us all” — and fun events.

“The beauty of college is being around people from  all over the world. I would say just make the most of your experience and come out to at least one of our events. Learn by coming on, and just be able to leave on knowing something that you didnt know coming into it,” Olagbegi said.

We must pay it forward

When Lwere was in the process of deciding which university to attend, he said Notre Dame’s emphasis on cultivating the mind and heart immediately captivated him. The Universitys mission of serving as a force for good in the world resonated with his belief that students have a responsibility to improve their countries.

“Given the historical responsibility [we] bear being African, theres immense opportunity for growth on the continent, and to whom much is given, like ourselves, much is expected,” he said. “We have to be in line with the Universitys idea of an education for greater good. We should also have a sense of duty to wherever we come from.”

This desire to “pay it forward,” Lwere said, is the driving force behind the organization of the first-ever Pan-African Youth Conference, which will bring together both African and non-African students from all over the globe to discuss the continents condition and the role the current generation of African youth will play in the future.

The conference will include a Keynote Speech by Cameroonian political theorist and intellectual, Achilles Mbembe, and will consist of three panels on politics and governance, socioeconomic transformation and cultural evolution. Registration is currently closed, but Lwere said the group is expecting some 200 attendees.

One of conference’s theme is Pan-Africanism, or “idea that peoples of African descent have common interests and should be unified,” according to Britannica. The African diaspora is an essential factor in this movement, Tunkara said.

“First, African knowledge is spread across the world, and a lot of successful Africans are based outside of Africa,” she said. “So if we could, like find a way to integrate all of us together, I think it would be really important and helpful. Second, just because like Africans are everywhere, I think its important to be inclusive of all that, because inclusivity like makes us stronger.”

Considering Africas geographic extension, immigration and magnitude of natural resources, Notre Dame professor of Africana studies and political science Dianne Pinderhughes said it was important to create spaces for conversations around these topics.

“Africa is an enormous continent. It is building new kinds of networks of communications and interactions. The extent to which theyve had an importance in American history,” Pinderhughes said. “Then you also have the importance of Africa source of natural resources, but, think that our own assumptions about whats happening in Africa, are limited by our lack of knowledge of the whole continent.”

Lwere said the conference would serve as the stepping stone towards setting the agenda for what should be done to improve the continent as a whole.

“Every generation must define what is feasible within their lifetimes to do as a contribution to African development,” he said. “And so we are hoping that in taking stock of what has come before us, we can also be able to establish what our contribution will be.

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