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Boiler Bytes – The Black Cultural Center’s 50th Anniversary

November 3, 2019


The Black Cultural Center for me has
been absolutely instrumental in my own personal growth. It has given me a sense
of belonging and a boost of confidence. It is definitely a home away from home
for me. It’s been that way since the moment I stepped in here actually. I think this is just a really special
place that people really appreciate. The primary role of the Black Cultural
Center is to promote academic excellence and cultural pride. And we do that in a
variety of ways; whether it’s through students being involved in our very
robust performing arts ensemble program, or the guest speakers and performers
that we have come to the university to present public lectures and
presentations so that we can educate the entire campus community about the
contributions of African Americans. The reason why the Black Cultural Center is an important place is it allows students of color an opportunity to see themselves. Because representation does matter. If you see a model of someone who
you want to be, you know, in the space that you’re thinking of being in you’re
that much more inclined to come here to do whatever it is that you want to do. This is where I can come in and I can just celebrate who I am fully and feel
embraced and feel welcomed In 2019 the Black Cultural Center is
celebrating their 50th anniversary. The 50th anniversary is an opportunity for
us to sort of take a step back and to celebrate and to applaud and to
recognize the fact that we have existed here at Purdue University on a predominately white campus in a free-standing facility is sometimes unheard of on many campuses. And to see where you’ve come from and to see what you’ve been able to accomplish
over the years is a cause of celebration. [MUSIC] [MUSIC -“We Shall Overcome”] Historically in the late 1960s was the
height of the civil rights in the Black Arts Movement. Here at Purdue University
there were very few African American students who were enrolled in the late
1960s. Those students who were enrolled, and it was less than 150 African
American students, really felt that there was not anything that was reflective of
their culture or their heritage here at Purdue University. The majority of the black students at Purdue decided that they wanted to have a demonstration. And they staged to silent a protest. And they marched to Hovde Hall, the administration
building, in single file lines silently with brown paper bags and inside the
brown paper bag was a brick. When they arrived at the administration building
they opened their brown paper bags and one by one they laid the bricks on the
steps of Hovde Hall. They met with the university President and presented the
president a list of nine demands and one of those demands was for a Black
Cultural Center. “Located across street from the Armory is the new Black
Culture Center which opened in September.” The first Black Cultural Center was
housed in an old residential unit at the corner of 3rd and University Street. It
was a two-story home and which it was repurposed to be the Black Cultural
Center. They were very modest facilities so it
had some challenges as it relates to both the architecture in the age of the facility. In 1995 we launched the major capital campaign in which we raised money to be
able to construct a new Black Cultural Center Facility And then in 1999 we
moved into this building This particular facility is the first
building at Purdue University that was designed by an African-American
architectural firm. It is supposed to mimic a lot of architecture that you
might find in Africa You walk in and you have this grand circle. The African
architectural significance of the circle is to resemble an African village.
So if you’re in the circle and you make like an announcement the entire village
can actually hear. One of the most striking architectural elements is the
shape of our receptionist desk. The desk is shaped like the hull of a
ship and you really can’t talk about not just the black experience at Purdue or
the African-American experience period and not talk about the Trans-Atlantic
Slave Trade. So all of our group tours we make them
stand very close together so they can get the idea of what it’s like to be packed tightly on a ship for weeks and months at a time. I’d like to share with
our students that if their African ancestors could survive the horrors of
the Middle Passage then go into slavery that Purdue University should be a piece
of cake for them academically. The Black Cultural Center has a variety of
resources that are available for students to take advantage of. We have the BCC library which is actually part of the Purdue library system, and so
there’s over 7,000 books in its collection. In our library we also have
study spaces that students can use. The part that I love the most though is
actually the formal lounge. We always set up different exhibits in these
rooms from time to time. There’s always some type of art displayed by current
students and that for me is impactful because I get to see what other students
are doing As part of our 50th anniversary
celebration we created an exhibit called A Journey Through Black Excellence and
what the exhibit does it tells the powerful narrative of the
African-American experience through the lens of the Black Cultural Center. We also have a very robust creative
space here at the Black Cultural Center. We rehearsed in the Antonio and Betty
Zamora Studio, which is a beautiful space acoustically as well as aesthetically. One of our hallmark programs is what I call the heartbeat of the Black Cultural Center which is our performing arts ensembles. We have the Johari Dance Troupe, the New Directional Players Drama Company, the Haraka Writers Creative
Writing Ensemble, and the Black Voices of Inspiration Choir. We also have the Black Thought
Collective which is our scholarly ensemble, and the Purdue Express. That ensemble is a recruitment ensemble for the University. The idea was to tap the
talents of our Black Cultural Center students and put those to work and
helping us recruit students to Purdue by sharing their Purdue story in song and
dance with high schools around the state. And I think it’s just been a phenomenal
success The most surprising element during my
time here is just how the intentional the Black Cultural Center is in
discovering and unlocking what blackness is. I really feel that the Black Cultural
Center has created a transformational experience for our students. The Black Cultural Center exists to educate not just African American people, not just to
support African American people, but to educate, uplift, and support all students. The BCC is for you, whoever you are whatever identities you hold. It’s a place where everybody can come. The services that they have, the
performance arts ensembles, and I was like wow, this is a dope space! Black culture isn’t just music or isn’t just art it’s a lot of different things, and I
think that the Black Cultural Center does a good job of fitting all of that
into a building and fitting all of that into a community.

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