Savannah Technical College’s Liberty campus hosted two Black History Month celebrations Thursday with the theme “African Americans: A Diverse History.”
Between 10 a.m. and noon, students and visitors saw participants portraying and sharing the stories of significant historical figures, exhibitions using art and media to demonstrate advancement and performers offering a look at traditional African dance.
Liberty Campus Dean Terrie Sellers said the daytime fair is in its second year, but the school has been celebrating Black History Month for about six years.
“We celebrate all cultures, and with us being a public college, we have so many different cultures that come to the college, and we just want to celebrate all of the cultures,” Sellers said. “This is just our opportunity to celebrate African-American history.
“I hope they take away a sense of all the accomplishments of African-Americans,” she said. “That so many cultures have played a role in this great country that we live in, and I hope that they’ll walk away with a little bit more knowledge, and a little bit more awareness.”
During the morning fair, Bradwell Institute students displayed a selection of culturally inspired sculptures and batiks. Liberty County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Keith Jenkins, who is a martial-arts master, led self-defense and martial-arts demonstrations.
The crowd watched student Brenton Jordan, decked out in earth-toned garb with tribal patterns, whirl and spin to beating drums.
“The dance is called ‘Oya,’” he said, adding that it originated with the Yoruba people in Nigeria but now is practiced in many places around the globe.
“It’s actually a religious dance, … That particular dance is for the deity known as Oya, … She is known as a woman who’s very beautiful, gracious, but in the same instance, her movements are very warlike,” he said, explaining why the free-form dance began slowly and built to a fast-paced crescendo.
“A lot of people, especially down south in the Bible Belt, think that when it comes to most things African, it’s either wrong, evil, negative or something like that,” he said. “And for me, doing religious dances, … it’s bringing that negative stigma out of those religions, showing that those religions are beautiful, showing that those traditions are rich — there is so much more to them than what Hollywood puts out.”
Jordan, a Eulonia native, learned the dance and its religious origins while learning about his African roots. He said he dances so others can also learn about their ancestry.
“There was a hunger in me, and I went out and started learning about African music and African dance … ,” he said. “You have to know where you came from in order to know where you’re going.”
Jordan also was among the performers at the nighttime ceremony, where about 130 people gathered. Gypsy Lewis James sang a solo, Jasmine Jones and Company presented an upbeat cultural dance and the Hinesville Community Collaboration Choir performed, according to Pastor Richard D. Hayes, president of the United Ministerial Alliance.
“I feel that events such as this bring the history books to life,” Hayes said. “It’s important to remember who we are and the strength of our history. These events help our young people to understand that in spite of their present situation, they are a part of a rich history, and there is no struggle that they can’t overcome.”
Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas was the keynote speaker at the event, and he encouraged the audience to think about its impact on the community and told them to make their own history.
“If you don’t allow your people to know where they came from, they will have no connection with their culture,” Thomas said. “All great ethnic groups have a single common culture as their background. We have to continually teach our African-American students their history. We need to constantly emphasize or talk about our history to allow our young people to see where they come from to know their roots and ethnic history.”