The Africana Center Creates A Virtual Safe Space

Mauriah Johnson, Lifestyle Editor

While the pings of new viewers joining the WebEx dominated the brief silence anxiously awaiting 4:30 p.m. – a mature woman’s voice rings through the speakers. “I’m checking out the new virtual backgrounds,” she laughs. As chuckles begin to fill the silence, accents bounce from all cultures: American, Nigerian, Kenyan and the unknown.

“I’ve never seen you here before,” said Co-Director Wangari Gichiru, as her reflection of me danced from her computer screen into her snazzy glasses. Her short haircut and cultured African top made her distinguishable from everyone else.

“It’s nice to meet you,” she gracefully smiled.

“Thank you, it’s nice to meet you too,” I responded while already jotting down the details of her with my red pen.

As it’s two minutes to the start time already, 20 people have joined the meeting, most with their cameras turned on and ready to participate; others turned off, yet still engaged.

“As we have reached the time to begin, I just want to say thank you and let us begin with Leonard [Epps] introducing us with the drums,” Gichiru said.

All microphones muted except for Epps, where he stood center with his djembe drum and bright yellow southern cultured backdrop. His hands began to move quicker than your next thought and the beat vibrated into your body as if you weren’t sitting in your home watching from your computer — you couldn’t help but want to move.

The talent was present right from the beginning with Epps and Nehway Sahn, an intern and coordinator for Coffee & Kala [an open mic night for those of the creative arts] preparing for her solo, ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing.’

“I learned it on a ukulele, so…” those were the only words she said as she giggled at her learning technique, holding her ukulele closely to her chest while she composed herself and began to sing.

Her melancholic voice made you want to close your eyes as she sang her vintage rendition of the classic and her hums made you quiver with a ukulele that was the perfect touch.

The atmosphere was officially set and the audience was ready to be moved into a small prayer by Central Connecticut Professor Dr. Felton Best, before introducing the interns and board: Nicole Glaude, former president and now mentor, Nehway Sahn (previously mentioned) and Sean Clarke, an intern and poet.

Each had their chance of speaking, Glaude did a reading while Clarke read a poem of his own about caring during the pandemic that was met with snaps and applause.

Daniel Broyld, CCSU professor and co-director of The Africana Center, gave an introduction into his background attending an HBCU [Historically Black Colleges and Universities] and his new role on the team and the future he foresees:

“Is there anything that we [The Africana Center] could do for you guys during this time? How can we help?”

That simple question from Broyld led into an eye-opening discussion from students; whether as a chat left open for students to join and work together as a study room, space to just think, vent or be creative to a special segment dedicated to students’ mental health during this time.

The most interesting development had to be professors’ perspectives about teaching HyFlex courses, missing the environment,  adapting and not knowing what students are struggling because they can’t even see their faces.

Times have changed, the level of difficulty and mental health worry doesn’t only revolve around the students but the professors as well, seeing as many of them have been doing this in-person field for years or even decades.

In this welcoming re-opening of The Africana Center online, the many worries that were vocalized were also uplifted with positive feedback from students and faculty encouraging one another that they can all make it work, leading to the bright smiles on their faces.

“Leonard, close us out with some more drums, please,” Gichiru requested.

The Africana Center is back.