Over 750 students from across the country this past weekend attended the 23rd annual Black Solidarity Conference at Yale. The event is Yale’s largest undergraduate conference and brings students of color together each year to discuss issues related to the African diaspora.
The conference centered on the theme “Let’s Get It On: Deconstructing Sex, Sexuality, and Gender in the Black Community” and featured lectures, panels, networking events and social activities. With speakers discussing topics like black hypermasculinity, queerness, sexualization of black bodies and mental health, the event aimed to create space for participants to challenge traditional notions of sexuality and gender, as well as to explore their intersectional identities.
“This theme is something that is not always discussed within our community,” said Mariko Rooks ’21, a member of the Black Solidarity Conference Executive Board who helped organize the conference. “People were forced to challenge prejudices both within the community and external prejudices.”
The conference began Thursday with a screening of the HBO special “2 Dope Queens” and culminated Saturday night with a keynote address by Janet Mock, a prominent social activist and co-creator of the #BlackLivesMatter Twitter hashtag and movement.
In her keynote address, Mock addressed the intersectionality of identity, sharing anecdotes about growing up in Hawaii as a mixed and transgender woman. Mock emphasized the importance of having a support group of allies and accomplices to achieve any type of success and also shed light on the reality that most people of color lack this kind of support, according to Rooks.
The conference also included a career fair with representatives from Google, The Steve Fund, Harvard Business School’s MBA program and other corporate sponsors. On Friday night, students participated in a talent show and attended a concert at Toad’s Place featuring a performance by the rapper Dej Loaf.
According to Richard Mbouombouo ’21, a member of the Black Solidarity Conference executive board, attendees also had the option of joining a “ujima” discussion group, a smaller group of students that could discuss issues brought up during talks and panels in a more intimate setting.
Many students who participated in the conference said they valued it as a place to speak freely and thoughtfully with other members of the black community.
“It was absolutely amazing just to be in a space in a [predominantly white institution] with so many black people and to talk about black solidarity and black love in different forms,” said Seble Yigletu, a sophomore at Tufts University.
June Philippe, a sophomore at Princeton University, called the conference “enriching” and said that it offered the unique opportunity to discuss how the black experience differs at historically black colleges and universities versus predominantly white schools.
In a talk and question-and-answer session on Saturday titled “Representations of Black Men,” journalists Damon Young and Saki Benibo described how black male celebrities should recognize their privileges in the black community and be held to a higher standard than “entry-level liberalism.”
Young and Benibo also emphasized that heterosexual black men must “do better” by supporting other marginalized groups in the black community, including women and LGBTQ individuals, a sentiment that resonated with many students in the audience.
“Shut up and listen to black women,” Benibo said, to a chorus of cheers. “That deference will teach you how to be a better person, a better activist, a better advocate.”
Other in attendance said they appreciated the specificity of this year’s theme, especially since the topics of sexuality and queerness rarely come up in dialogues about race.
“The themes in the past have been about blackness and how unique it is, but this one is about the intersectionality of being black and gay, or black and trans, and the complexity of identities,” said Stephanie Moore, a senior at Wells College who has attended the past four Black Solidarity Conferences.
Kemi Oladipo, a senior at Swarthmore College, said being in a space “filled with black bodies and energy” was a rejuvenating experience. As a bisexual woman, she said she related deeply to the theme and to guest speakers from the LGBTQ community, such as Mock and Staceyann Chin, a poet and social activist.
The first Black Solidarity Conference was held in 1995.
Alice Park | firstname.lastname@example.org