“Without healthy Black babies and healthy Black mothers, we can’t have a healthy culture,” commented Rayshell Chambers, COO of Painted Brain, as the Celebrating Black Families: Persevering Through...And the Beat Goes On event kicked off on Friday, February 19. Presented by The San Gabriel Valley African American Infant and Maternal Mortality Community Action Team and The Black Mental Health Task Force, the virtual celebration of Black History Month was all about that very thing: creating (and sustaining) a healthy Black culture.
The event’s central theme, perseverance, was illustrated through the idea of healing from historical trauma collectively as well as creating opportunities to thrive, specifically by creating a sense of real community punctuated by ancestral beats and rhythms. This began with sharing a video on the history of stepping and segued into interactive demonstrations and a panel of members of the Divine Nine (D9).
Throughout, the audience participated with lots of various emoji reactions and a lively, talkative comments section. Solidarity among sorors and frat brothers was shown in the chat as attendees shouted out their allegiances, “Phi Beta Sigma sends greetings to all,” commented one attendee. The event also had two raffles giving away $25 gift cards to various stores (Target, Amazon, to name a few) to people who registered before 3pm on the day of the event.
The “Divine 9,” as the group of nine collective Black Greek fraternities and sororities is known, was originally formed as a way to empower Black college students as they carved their paths in the world, thereby forging opportunities for the Black community as a whole. “We want to make sure that we have a seat at the table,” said panelist Mosi Odom, Zeta Phi Beta, noting that the Black Greeks were there for every pivotal moment in Civil Rights history.
“We’re not just some social club,” said Dr. Corliss P. Bennett, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., speaking to the Divine Nine’s commitment to community service work.
The panel shared programs that the Divine Nine has participated in, including volunteership, fundraising, and donating to other organizations, like The March of Dimes. They also have youth organizations for children. “When you see (the) community, you see us at the front lines,” said Mosi Odom.
“To strengthen the family we must build a foundation again,” said Ken Barrow, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity. Barrow spoke about the way that the Divine Nine builds a sense of community, takes care of each other, and creates strong relationships. He tied in the importance of perseverance in maintaining those relationships—particularly as they relate to family. “With perseverance, you do something despite it being difficult,” Barrow said.
Next up was a live step show from Wayne Lyons, CEO of Empire for the Youth, and Gwendolyn Bush. Lyons began by quoting James Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son. Then, with energetic enthusiasm, jumped in the background while Bush spoke, welcoming the audience to Greek life.
“We work hard, we provide service to all mankind, we provide scholarships, and we set it off!” exclaimed Bush.
The performance set a joyous tone for the rest of the event, as it segued into a demonstration of the Chicago step by Terrance Jones. “It’s a dance form that can adapt to any style of music,” Jones said as he briefly broke down the history of Chicago Step and shared a video about the benefits of stepping.
“Stepping is beautiful,” commented attendee Raena Gransberry as the video played. “Couples gliding and dressed sharp.” Indeed, Jones noted, similar to the formation of Black Greek life, stepping was created as yet another way for Black folks to form a sense of community around a cultural touchstone. And from community, relationships form, families are made.
“This has brought families together,” Jones said. “It was our way to make memories by touching each other.”
Jones got everyone out of their (virtual) chairs to join in some moves. As he pushed his camera back, he revealed blue tape laid down to demonstrate, “dancing in the lane.”
“What a great mental health invention, both in the Black Greek system as well as for anyone else; the movement, the human connection, the solidarity…this can do so much (for) someone struggling but not yet able or willing to connect with more formal services,” commented Melinda Keily, BSN, RN, IBCLC.
The interactive segments continued with a drumming session and demonstration by Cedric Jones of Music Tree. Drumming on a Djembe, Jones gave mini lessons about the African roots of Cumbia, Kuku and Fanga rhythms, encouraging the audience to play along. After his presentation, Jones played the event out as a spoken word presentation expounded on the meaning of perseverance.
To learn more about upcoming free virtual events, visit blackinfantsandfamilies.org.