African Student Union's 12th Annual Gala unites and celebrates culture throughout the continent

Written by Fifi Oginni, CAS communications intern

enlarged photo of opening ceremonyMiami's African Student Union (ASU) hosted its 12th annual gala event on April 12 at Armstrong Student Center's Wilks Theater. The event featured an array of art, literature, dancing, drama, cuisine and cultural expressions from a wide array of African countries that are represented in the Miami community.

Professor of geography Ian Yeboah is finishing up his second year as faculty advisor to the group. He expressed his joy on working with students to share their African heritage and culture.

"My influence on ASU members is in helping them know their identity, both in terms of their African heritage and the American experience," Dr. Yeboah said. "I also help them focus on why they are at Miami University and to take advantage of the full opportunities they have been presented to them. I play coach and encourage them in their day-to-day life experiences at Miami and help them access resources that they can use in their lives at Miami."

enlarged photo of Bi-Okoto groupThe gala began with a parade of students carrying different flags representing the 56 nations of Africa, as well as 6 Caribbean nations. This was a way for some students to represent their respective cultures and heritages, as they were met with applause and cheers from audience members. Once all the flags were presented on stage, people rose up to celebrate the unity of all countries together — this served as a great opening to the gala and set the tone for the rest of the night.

The opening act, by the Bi-Okoto Dance, Drum and Theatre Company, traveled from Cincinnati to perform a riveting dance performance in traditional Nigerian attire.

"Bi-Okoto was my favorite part of gala this year," said Afua Yeboah, senior political science major and outgoing ASU president. "They have been performing at the ASU gala for many, many years and are a great show opener. It really sucks to follow them for the rest the night — they have high energy and are easy to watch because they're very entertaining."

enlarged photo of Moyo Muti bandBefore the intermission came the fashion show, which has been a significant part of the ASU gala for many years. I had the pleasure to collaborate with fellow student and strategic communication and fashion major Gabby Nti to serve as designers for the fashion show, which featured clothing handmade from traditional kente and ankara fabrics. Several student models wore and presented each piece.

"Designing was a great experience and it was nice to feel my culture represented through fashion," said Nti. "ASU really gave me a great sense of community and great exposure to so many other different African cultures."

The gala featured several more acts, including the Moyo Muti band, comprised of the teenage Zimbabwean sister duo of Mazvita and Farai, performing original songs from a traditional string instrument (the mbira.) One song in particular drew emotions from the audience as it retold the story of the people's struggle during colonization and the Zimbabwean fight for independence.

enlarged photo of award ceremony"The whole room was captivated by their performance," said Nti. "Hearing the history of the songs and then having them recite it was special. I was not expecting them to be in high school, so everyone was shocked to hear that they were only 15 and 17!"

The final act was a short comedic skit put on by ASU members representing different African countries. Reflecting current political and cultural discourse, they gave a response to recent comments made by the American president and drew laughs from the audience.

The gala was completed with an award ceremony for the graduating class, including a large feast of African cuisine, held in Shideler Hall.

"It is remarkable to see how the ASU students arrive as freshmen and graduate in four years," said Dr. Yeboah. "I am honored to have played a small part in their development."

If you are interested in joining the African Student Union or learning more about the culture of the African continent, contact incoming president Mona-Mae Juwille (juwillm@MiamiOH.edu) or follow their Instagram page for events (@mu_asu).