When the sun rose on Friday, it shined upon a grim, cloudy New Haven morning, the kind that makes one want to crawl back into bed and tuck themselves away from the rainy, uninviting weather. While some may have opted for that somewhat more attractive option, the members of the Yale African Students Association, also known as YASA, ventured into the gloomy day, bringing their brightly colored flags, upbeat African music and exhilarating dancing to the heart of Yale’s campus.
In many ways, the flash mob that kick-starts Africa Week is an embodiment of what this week signifies for the students of YASA: a chance for the African community to come together, celebrate their shared culture and honor the far-reaching diversity of their community. However, the mob, much like the ensuing week of events, is about more than just celebration. It symbolizes the intersection of the students’ African and Yale identities and highlights the ways in which the students function as a bridge between Yale and the continent, both individually and as a collective unit.
Starting Nov. 5, YASA hosted its twelfth annual Africa Week event, titled “My Africa is: Mine.” Inspired by the desire to highlight the myriad of experiences that African students bring to Yale’s campus, this year’s events focus on reclaiming the African narrative in a world where identity is often flattened and “Africanness” is often stereotyped. First introduced in 2006 as a collaboration between Yale Undergraduate Students for UNICEF and YASA, Africa Week has since grown to become one of YASA’s focal annual events.
YASA President Ruhi Manek ’20 highlighted the significance of Africa Week both for YASA and for the larger Yale community. She noted the importance of recognizing the responsibility that students of Yale have to leverage their positions of privilege on campus and beyond.
Since its inception, Africa Week has been a chance for joyous celebration, but it has also been a space where students can think critically about their communities and their roles in them, said Manek, pointing to the TEDx talk on Africa’s brain drain by Kevin Njabo.
“It’s personal because we are also a part of that brain drain,” she said. “This is what Africa Week is also about: a space to reflect on what our being at Yale means for our future relationships to the continent.”
Although Africa Week consistently follows the umbrella theme of identity, each year’s iteration adds a different tone to that broader question of what it means to be African. This year’s theme came about as a synthesis of a broad array of suggestions. When the YASA board began debating the theme in the spring of 2018, there were many different conceptions of what Africa Week should be about. That was when a moment of inspiration hit the members of the board: rather than picking one of those suggestions, why not merge them into one?
Even though Yale’s African community is so diverse, said Manek, it is still only a limited representation of the component identities that constitute the complexity and diversity of the African community at large.
“We are conscious of the fact that there are still many African countries that are not represented- or not represented enough- on Yale’s campus,” Manek said. “And that is something we try our best to be mindful of when we set out to frame the way in which we represent the continent through an event such as Africa Week.”
The unique perspective of how each person chooses to represent the continent spurred an enthusiastic and energetic social media campaign to promote Africa Week. To this end, members of the African student body gathered in the Yale Center for British Art, also known as YCBA, for a promotional photo shoot. The YCBA was purposefully chosen to reflect the concept of reclaiming Africa from histories of empire, a powerful statement that resonated through the beautiful pictures that emerged that day.
Members of YASA changed their Facebook profile photos to further garner attention on the upcoming Africa Week events, and each captioned their photo with their own perception of Africa: “My Africa is: Hopeful.”; “My Africa is: Credit Where It Is Due.”; “My Africa Is: Powerful.”; “My Africa is: Rising.” An array of complementary, rather than competing visions, came together to create a more nuanced and complex vision of what Africa is, and what it has the potential to become.
“It is really important to bring Africa to Yale, when our conversations about it here rarely focus on Africa, and where the African studies department is not a full one,” YASA’s Community Outreach Chair Sam Brakarsh ’21 said.
Africa Week has a three-fold purpose, added Brakarsh: to bring important speakers and influencers to campus, to unite and celebrate the African community across Yale’s campus and to recognize leading personalities doing important work on and outside of the African continent.
“We put a lot of thought into who we’re going to invite to Africa Week,” said Manek, “because we realize that the week is about honoring and learning from their contributions.”
This year, Africa Week features nine different events that will occur over the course of six days. Starting the week off was Monday’s Trivia Night in the Hopper buttery. The evening was captured by a familial atmosphere, as students gathered together to celebrate one another and evoke some friendly competition. Some trivia questions included: Which country has the best jollof rice? What language is the phrase “Hakuna Matata?” Name 3 African dances—bonus points if you perform them!
“Trivia night was kind of just all the Africans hanging out,” said attendee Malaika Aryee-Boi ’19, “but inviting the rest of Yale to join us at the same time.”
On Tuesday, the film “Rafiki” was screened in Pauli Murray, followed by a Q&A session with lead actress Samantha Mugatsia. “Rafiki,” a winner and nominee at the 2018 Chicago International Film Festival and the Cannes Film festival respectively, filled an auditorium full of eager students with the sounds, images and banter of vibrant scenes from the streets of Nairobi. The film, which explores the love story between two young Kenyan women, was effectively banned in the country — a prohibition that was temporarily lifted to make it eligible for an Oscar nomination.
Wednesday saw the opening of an art exhibition and a fashion show, both of which were hosted at the Afro-American Cultural Center. Up for two more weeks, the exhibition features works by visual artists Osborne Macharia from Nairobi, Kenya and Adama Delphine Fawundu based in Brooklyn, showcasing two unique lenses through which the audience can challenge: repurpose and reimagine African identity. The Fashion Show, a collaboration between YASA and Y Fashion House, lit up the exhibition space with colorful patterns and bright overtones.
The weekend promises a host of other events, including a TED talk by Kevin Njabo, discussing the brain drain experienced in the African continent, as well as the Indaba reception, hosted in Luce Hall on Friday evening. Finally, the week will conclude with four events over the course of Saturday: a screening of “Democrats” followed by a conversation with its director Camilla Nielsson and political activist Alex Magaisa, a talent showcase that will take place in SSS on Saturday evening, a closing dinner at the Afro-American Cultural Center and finally, an Africa Week after-party.
But Africa Week is not just about putting up Africa-related events for the sake of the Yale community.
“Africa Week is also a chance for us to learn about other African countries and a chance for us to not only introduce Africa to Yale, but to learn more about the continent ourselves,” Resla Wesonga ’19.
Sophia Catsambi | firstname.lastname@example.org .