Richard George, Contributing Photographer

The Afro-American Cultural Center at Yale hosted its annual Welcome Back Barbeque last Saturday evening, with energized dancing and eclectic mixes of food from across the African diaspora as hundreds lined up to join in the fun.

The barbecue also featured music, backyard games, dance circles and a visit from Handsome Dan. Black Yalies told the News they were excited to attend and represent the multicultural space the House has focused on building for the last 54 years. 

“Proximity and numbers is everything,” said Alexis Mburu ‘27. “And I just like the fact there is space, there is energy, there’s people dedicated to making sure I as a Black woman am supported by other Black people.”

The event introduced Black first years to the diverse community available to them as they chart their journeys through Yale. Keith Pemberton ’27 said the Af-Am House’s  welcome reception included Black students across undergraduate, graduate and other programs. 

First years like Mburu and Pemberton were encouraged by the mutual feelings of joy that the barbecue fostered.

“I’m hot, I’m sticky, and I’m sweaty, but I’m excited to see all these Black people in one forum,” Lauren Grant ’27 told the News.

Upperclassmen in attendance were similarly encouraged by the spontaneous bonding and interchange at the barbecue. 

In the upcoming year, these older students hope to pass knowledge to new Black Yalies, making the transition to a predominantly white institution easier and encouraging them to find affinity and mutual support within the wider Black community.

“I think that as a senior, and not just me but for all seniors, we have a role in our last year to pass on our knowledge to the younger generation that comes in, especially the first years,” Abi Ndikum ’25 said. “So I just hope that before I leave, I can do just that. I can help pass on any wisdom that I can to help them have a better time at Yale.” 

With rising COVID-19 cases and the large number of attendees, organizing the barbecue presented itself as a difficult task.

But Timeica Bethel ’11, Director of the Afro-American Cultural Center and Assistant Dean of Yale College, said the talented team of student assistants and staff at the House successfully navigated these challenges. 

“Honestly, I cannot take all the credit at all,” Bethel said. “We have the best staff here at the house, especially my three [head] student assistants, Alanah, Stephanie and Audrey. They put so much work into planning the barbecue with our grad assistant jalen parks… And, so, it’s really helpful to have a staff of returning folks who know about the event already.”

The barbecue is one of many upcoming events hosted by the Af-Am House. This year’s theme, “make this house a home,” is the guiding principle behind their efforts, and the Af-Am House’s staff is excited to present the House as a resource in which Black Yalies can ground themselves. 

The Afro-American Cultural Center will host a new student welcome jubilee and mixers for Black first years of various intersecting identities: queer and trans people of color, or QTPOC, student athletes, students with disabilities and international students. In collaboration with the other cultural centers, they will hold a cultural center corral for graduate and professional students to introduce them to these resources and encourage their involvement with the centers. 

In its offerings, the Af-Am House continues to prioritize inclusivity above all else, and according to Bethel, this “love” for Black students of all identities, backgrounds and origins is at the center of their mission — one started through struggle by the Af-Am House’s founders. 

In her opening speech at the barbecue, Bethel detailed the founders’ challenges in motivating the University to build the Afro-American Cultural Center. She emphasized that their work continues on, providing an unlikely space for minoritized students to not only survive, but thrive.

“I would not have graduated from Yale if it had not been for the House and the community I found at the House,” Bethel said. “I’m excited to be here to welcome people into this space and to share the history of the House and what it means and why this community is so special… It’s a feeling of love, gratitude and excitement.” 

The Afro-American Cultural Center is located at 211 Park Street.

Correction, Sept. 17: This article has been updated with accurate spellings of the student assistants’ names.