Jessica Lincoln | staff writer
In celebration of Black History Month, Duquesne’s second annual African American Read-In (AARI) event was held in the Union Ballroom on Wednesday night. The event was organized by the Michael P. Weber Learning Skills Center, Pennsylvania Acts program and Gussin Spiritan Division of Academic Programs.
At the event, Duquesne faculty, staff, students, alumni and guests came together to read, perform and celebrate the works of African American artists. Some presenters also read their own original works.
“Reading together is the perfect way to connect with friends, colleagues and the Duquesne community as we pay tribute to the generations of African Americans who have triumphed over adversity,” said Josephine Rizzo, the PA Acts student advisor at the Learning Skills Center, who coordinated the event.
African American Read-Ins were first held in 1990, after the Black Caucus of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) began sponsoring a nationwide read-in on the first Sunday of February. The purpose of the event was to make literacy and representation a significant part of Black History Month.
“Every year, hundreds of celebrations of the African American Read-In take place across the country and around the world. These events feature the texts, talks and discussions by and about African American authors and serve as a way to recognize and amplify their work,” the NCTE said on its website.
Rizzo organized the first Read-In at Duquesne last year, and she said one of the goals for this event was to increase student involvement. Last year, only one student participated; this year, there were three, two of whom wrote their own poems for the purpose.
As another way of increasing involvement, organizers placed information stations around campus with information about several prominent African Americans. The grounds outside Fisher and Rockwell Halls, the College Hall lawn and other locations were decorated with photographs and quotes from prominent figures, and each display included information on the Read-In.
“I hope that the participants and attendees of the AARI event will have an enjoyable, educational and culturally rich experience they can share with their departments, students, colleagues and friends,” Rizzo said.
The Read-In started at 6 p.m. with an introduction by Rev. Debra Hearn of Mt. Ararat Baptist Church, who was the event’s master of ceremonies. Attendees were invited to join in a rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which Hearn described as “one of the most cherished songs of the African American civil rights movement.”
Then, the performances began.
There were dramatic readings from poems written by Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes and local artists. There was a screening of Kobe Bryant’s Academy Award-winning short film Dear Basketball, along with a tribute to Kobe, his daughter Gianna and the others killed in the helicopter crash in January. There were presentations on black history and etymology. The event was meant to showcase African American art of all kinds, and no two performances were alike.
One highlight was a visiting troupe from Sankofa Village for the Arts, Drum and Dance, a local nonprofit. They began the evening with a drum performance, then returned with a dance routine set to drum music. Children, teens and adults performed traditional dances, and each dancer was given time for a solo performance.
Another highlight was a dramatic reading by members of the Langston Hughes Poetry Society of Pittsburgh. KL Brewer-Coleman, Dessie Bey and Lorraine Cross, all dressed in white, sang and read selections from poetry and the slave narratives of Susan Merrit and Sarah Frances Shaw Graves.
In all, there were 17 separate performances as part of the event, all showcasing some aspect of African American culture, from 17th century slave stories to 21st century Black Lives Matter activism.
Other Black History Month events will be held on campus throughout February, including a “Medley of Melanin Pageant” on Feb. 21 and an “I Love My Hair Symposium” on Feb. 25. The African American Read-In is also planned to return next year.
“It has been an experience I won’t forget, and I am looking forward to future events in the years to come,” Rizzo said.