Black Excellence Ball set for Feb. 19; Cultural Expressions follows on Feb. 26

Amaka Uduh is a lot of things.

She’s smart. She strives to be kind. She loves to read. She’s a dancer, specializing in Nigerian dance styles. She can be quiet and a little bit shy, but not when you get to know her. She’s a Lawrence junior, and a leader in the Lawrence community.

But one aspect of her identity usually comes first on her list: she’s a Nigerian American Black woman. And since the beginning of this academic year, she’s added “president of Lawrence’s Black Student Union” to the ever-growing list of things that she “is.”

Uduh, a psychology major, joined BSU her freshman year, and it didn’t take long for her to “fall in love” and start rising through the ranks. She became the event coordinator that year, served as vice president during her sophomore year, and stepped into the top role as a junior, joining Imani Williams as co-president. Uduh and Williams oversee board and member meetings, collaborate with other student diversity organizations, and build connections with other Black students on campus.

“I felt at home with BSU,” said Uduh, originally from Nigeria and now living near Milwaukee. “I’ve always gone to a predominately Black school, so coming here was definitely a culture shock. … Getting involved with BSU brought a sense of comfortability and warmth.”

In the weeks leading up to February, Uduh’s already busy schedule started to get a lot busier, as the BSU board always plans a series of events to celebrate Black History Month. This year, they’ve pulled out all the stops. So far this month, BSU has brought in a guest speaker (known as Mr. Speaker) to discuss financial growth and finding a purpose, collaborated with the Pan Asian Organization to host a relaxing candle-making event, and sponsored a step workshop led by BSU member and junior Raven Ganaway.

As February continues, the events are getting even bigger and better, starting with BSU’s annual Black Excellence Ball on Feb. 19 in the Esch Hurvis Room. This glamorous evening gives students the opportunity to dress in their finest clothes as they come together to celebrate the achievements of Black Lawrentians, as well as of the wider Black community.

“Black Excellence Ball is to celebrate us,” Uduh said. “To celebrate how far we’ve come. To celebrate our skin color, our melanin, our melanated skin, our hair, our beauty.”

This year, as part of the Black History Month celebrations, BSU is inviting stylists and barbers who have experience working with Black and Brown hair to come to campus. In the days leading up to the ball, students will be able to schedule appointments to have their hair styled for free.

The theme of Black Excellence Ball is ’90s glam (imagine the glitz of Black Hollywood), which ties it into Cultural Expressions, the final event of Black History Month.

The annual talent show is Feb. 26, and this year, it’s all about unity—literally. Inspired by the 1993 Queen Latifah song, “U.N.I.T.Y.,” the show provides an opportunity for the community to come together and unify, after a year of being largely apart.

As one of the most beloved Lawrence traditions to date, this theme stays true to the roots of Cultural Expressions. It’s always been about bringing people together to appreciate the many talents of Lawrence’s Black and Brown students, whether it be written and visual art in the pre-show gallery or performances in the live show. Although the cast list will not be announced until the week of the event, Uduh said attendees should expect poetry, photography, dancing, singing and “amazing, talented people.” Auditions were held earlier this term and rehearsals are ongoing.

For Uduh, Cultural Expressions is more than just a talent show. She knows first-hand how impactful Cultural Expressions can be. Despite dancing for most of her life, Uduh had largely stopped dancing after arriving at Lawrence her freshman year. She worried that her art wouldn’t be appreciated.

But she was recruited by a few other students to choreograph a routine for Cultural Expressions that year—and people loved it. Cultural Expressions provided the outlet and opportunity for her to come out of her shell, which makes it the perfect event to close out the Black History Month celebrations.

“I love Black History Month,” Uduh said. “I mean, Black people should be celebrated every day, but Black History Month is … to celebrate how far we’ve come, to celebrate where we came from, to celebrate who we are, to celebrate our heritage. I feel like it’s important for Lawrence students and administration to see that.”

Although Black History Month is when BSU is most visible on campus, the club is active throughout the year, with weekly member meetings which have included everything from games to self-care. As for BSU’s bigger events, the board is already in the process of planning a cookout for Spring Term, which might include a few water games to help students beat the heat. After all, one month is never enough.

“There’s a lot more coming,” Uduh said. “That’s all I have to say.”