An annual conference intended to raise awareness about issues that affect the Africana culture was held at SIU for the first time Saturday.
The African Student Council, a campus Registered Student Organization, hosted the event for the first time this year and was joined by guests from several colleges and universities in Illinois, Iowa and Missouri. The conference was created to unite Midwest college and university African organizations, said Babajide Lawal, a senior from South Holland studying health care management and council president.
Mayor Joel Fritzler welcomed guests by speaking in Setswana, a Botswanian language, which he said he learned while living in Botswana during his time in the Peace Corp.
Fritzler compared his Africa experience to the transition he made in his move to southern Illinois.
“When I came to southern Illinois, I noticed that the population and culture here is different from other parts of the state, much like the various areas in Africa are all vastly different from one another,” he said.
Leonard Gadzekpo, associate professor of Africana Studies, spoke to conference attendees on subjects he said influences the African and African- American community. He said a major issue within the black community concerns Africana people waiting on Africa’s problems such as its economy to change.
“For a change to take place in Africa, it’s not just the place, its the people and their mentality that needs to change because the spirit of Africa is what’s important,” Gadzekpo said.
During an open discussion, attendees offered opinions on issues in the black community such as support for black business, the perception of black treatment in college and black student success.
Ibie Hart, a Loyola University student and president of the university’s African Student Alliance program, said she believes there are jealousy issues when it comes to the lack of support amongst black businesses. Hart said blacks cannot blame everyone else for their problems.
“If we constantly say we’re suppressed, then we will forever be suppressed,” she said. “We need to begin helping each other and building one another up instead of being jealous of another black’s success.”
Hart said students should take advantage of the opportunity they are given to attend college, and they should realize they are paying for more than just an education.
“We are paying for bonds with our peers, a sense of community, a success-driven environment,” she said. “If we don’t take advantage of that, then failure is exactly what we will get because you get out what you put in,” Hart said.
Joseph Brown, director of the Africana Studies department, also spoke at the conference and offered advice to attendees on how to succeed in school and in the African and African-American community. Brown said he thinks it is important people know they must go out of their comfort zone to make a change.
“Whatever travels you have made to and from various places, it is important to find home and change the surface,” he said.
Brown said college is the best training for this generation to change the world, but only if students take advantage of it properly.
“Be valued, be courageous, be honest and be patient with your learning,” he said.
Brown told the African students and guests they should realize one of their gifts is the ability to redo any error they make and correct themselves to be better for the future. He said students should make the most of their education by doing anything necessary to gain as much knowledge as possible from wherever they can and to never stop.
He told guests the story of Frederick Douglass, leader of the 1830s-1870 abolitionist movement who taught himself how to read by stealing food from his master’s kitchen and feeding white children who went to school so they would tell him the things they learned at school.
“Students need to have that same motivation for knowledge to get that education by any means necessary,” Brown said.
The conference also featured a dance performance by the Eastern Illinois University African Student Association Dancers as well as a comedy performance by Mueez “Tunde” Adigun, a senior from Evanston studying radio-television.