The African American Cultural Center (AACC) will host Harambee!, a block party celebration on Oct. 29 from 3-6 p.m., to celebrate the center’s 30th anniversary of having a home in Witherspoon Student Center. The block party is a collaboration between the AACC, Student Media, Military and Veterans Affairs and other campus partners.
The block party will take place in Harris Field and will have games, food trucks, a DJ and more. Andaiye Qaasim, assistant director of the African American Cultural Center, said the word “harambee” is an important term for the celebration.
“Harambee is actually a key Swahili term,” Qaasim said. “This is a Kenyan term, and it basically means ... we all come together. So we are hosting a 30th celebration of us in the Witherspoon building; we're celebrating our history here, we're celebrating coming together. Our logo and theme that you'll be seeing across campus is celebrating home through space and time.”
Angela Gay-Audre, the director of the African American Cultural Center, said the distinction between Harambee! as a celebration instead of an anniversary is very important.
“Our 30th year theme is a celebration, not an anniversary,” Gay-Audre said. “And I'm very particular about that language because if we say it’s an anniversary, then we devalue the work of those students who in the 1970s did some tremendous work to create this space, to shape it, whether they had a physical space or not. They shaped what we know of as [the] African American Cultural Center. So we are celebrating them, and we're celebrating having a physical space, we're celebrating having a place that we can actually call home.”
According to Qaasim, the first African American Cultural Center at NC State was not actually situated on campus.
“In about 1970, the African American Cultural Center was first housed in a YMCA, so they didn't actually have a space on campus,” Qaasim said. “And true to the legacy of that time, thinking about the ‘70s and student activism, and how many black students advocated on campus, their advocacy actually helped to bring about a space.”
Qaasim said Witherspoon Student Center is an important building for Black members of the NC State community not only because of the AACC, but also because of the man it was named after.
“This building was named the Witherspoon building in 1995 and that was after Dr. Augustus Witherspoon,” Qaasim said. “And I think he was the second Black person, the second African American, to receive a Ph.D from NC State. This is the first building that was named after an African American on campus. So that history and significance of who Dr. Witherspoon was, the building being named after him to honor his legacy, him also being an outstanding researcher, professor, advocate for black students, faculty and community leader. ... It also holds the significance that we've been in this building, the first building named after a Black person on campus.”
Qaasim said the block party will be a good way for Black students, faculty and staff to visualize the other Black people on campus, since they are in the minority.
“What does it mean to be a Black student, staff or faculty member?” Qaasim said. “You may not feel visible. The numbers are somewhat low. So I think when we have these events and celebrations, it's a time for us to actually come together and affirm each other. And to actually show that visibility, like we're here, we represent, people are doing amazing work on campus, from students to staff to faculty.”
Another event the AACC is putting on to kick off Red and White Week and begin their anniversary celebration is a keynote address from Brittney Cooper.
“She is a renowned author, activist, feminist scholar, writer,” Qaasim said. “She really pushes the boundaries when we think about Black feminist theory, and she really makes things relevant to current events, like what's happening now? How do we make change in the world? There's a great TED Talk where she talks about time and Blackness, time and Black women. ... We're super thrilled to host her because it's an opportunity that can bring together so many different areas on campus. ... It's a great way to start this conversation thinking about what does it mean to come together and celebrate who we are and affirm ourselves through space and time.”
Gay-Audre said having a space on campus for Black folks to gather is important and the AACC provides a space for students to come and relax.
“We are a Research I institution, which is phenomenal,” Gay-Audre said. “But we are more than research. We are humans, right? We deserve space to be able to think about who we are, how we want to grow, how we can actualize, how we alongside the careers that we will hold, the leadership positions we will hold, can also be full, authentic humans. And that's one of the key things that we provide for students across the board is a space to just let your load off and to be present.”
According to the event’s website, all students are encouraged to attend the AACC’s Harambee! celebration. More information can be found on the African American Cultural Center’s website. Students can register for Harambee! here.