More than 500 students from 45 different colleges and universities gathered at Yale over the weekend for the 15th annual Black Solidarity Conference, assembling to discuss progressive change within the black community.
To address this year’s theme, “Progress is Personal: Erasing Complacency, Embracing Our Purpose,” events included several speakers, workshops and performances. Friday’s opening ceremony was followed by a party and concert featuring rapper J. Cole at Toad’s Place. On Saturday, students could choose to attend several workshops on topics related to the theme of social progress. Michael Eric Dyson, the keynote speaker who is an American Book Award recipient and two-time NAACP Image Award winner, spoke at a semi-formal dinner at the Omni Hotel. Rounding out the day’s events was an afterparty at Club Static on Crown Street. The conference ended Sunday with a service held by the Black Church at Yale at the Afro-American Cultural Center.
In 1994, the Black Student Alliance at Yale decided to expand Black Solidarity Day — which traditionally occurs the day after Election Day — into a weekend event. The idea for a conference was inspired by Douglas Turner Ward’s play “Day of Absence,” which explores the consequences that would result if “all black people were to disappear for one day,” according to the conference program.
“Having recognized the need for collective action, organization, communication , and partnership that extended beyond their immediate surroundings, BSAY members created an intercollegiate conference that allows African American students from all over the country to come together as one collective voice,” the program reads.
In 2008, the conference created a constitution and executive board.
The search for this year’s speakers began when the 2010 conference board was elected at the end of the 2009 school year, said Shalette Dingle ’10, the speakers coordinator, adding that she contacted potential speakers throughout the summer.
“We really wanted speakers who appeal to and engage a younger audience,” Dingle said. “All of our speakers were those who could not only inspire students in our generation to become involved, but to also instruct and advise them on how best to do it under the conditions of today’s society.”
The speakers donated their expertise and time this weekend, said Charles Amoako ’11, the finance chair and sponsorship coordinator, but the conference paid for their transportation and hotel fees. And in order to cover all the conference expenses, organizers reached out to companies that had sponsored the conference in previous years. The clothing company Abercrombie & Fitch, for example, has sponsored the conference for a number of years, he said.
Lisa Daniels, a sophomore at Smith College, said she found the conference enlightening, and particularly enjoyed connecting with students from other colleges over common experiences and concerns.
“As a student of color, you struggle with your identity in the classroom and in your organizations,” Daniels said. “It was great to connect with students from Sarah Lawrence, Wellesley, Michigan and pinpoint ways to create a better life for ourselves.”
Paulina Musa, another sophomore at Smith, said she liked meeting Yale students, whom she said she found welcoming and easygoing.
But another student, Alysha McRae from Seton Hall, said though she was glad she had attended the conference, she wished it had lasted longer to allow attendees to explore the issues of race and identity more in-depth.
“The event felt crammed into two days,” McRae said.