In honor of the anniversaries on campus — the 50th anniversary of the BCC, 50th anniversary of the Black Studies Program, and 25th anniversary of the Chester Children’s Chorus — the college is Celebrating Black Excellence through programming for this year. The Phoenix, in addition to event coverage, will be publishing features of students on campus who embody Black Excellence in the many forms it takes.
Beluchi Okoronkwo ’22 is a sophomore invested in creating an inclusive campus. He is the manager of the women’s basketball team, co-president of the Swarthmore African Student Association, and a Diversity Peer Advisor.
As a first year, Okoronkwo quickly found SASA and its community to be a welcoming space for him.
“SASA has been my decompression space. Last year, meetings were on Saturdays and we just talked about what we’ve been through, how the week was going, and how we were feeling. I liked that energy and the laughs, jokes, and music that we all vibed together with,” said Okoronkwo. “I wanted to continue that as co-president for SASA because it was a community space for me and a place I could call home. So, I wanted to make that space for other people.”
Okoronkwo also frequented the Black Cultural Center as a first year, partially due to living in Mary Lyon, but over time it also became a comfortable, integral part of his life at the college, even as a sophomore.
“As a freshman, I lived in Mary Lyon, so I took almost all of my naps in the BCC because it was my home base and where I operated because I couldn’t always go back to my room without having a long trip,” said Okoronkwo. “So, I adopted the BCC into my life schedule, essentially. I was there a lot and even though I wasn’t an intern, I got treated as one because I was there all the time.”
In Okoronkwo’s experience, the BCC has been a community space that extends beyond the groups in which they are officially housed. In the fall of last year, he helped with the BCC’s altar that was a part of the larger Diasporic Communal Remembrance Altars project.
“We created one in the BCC that spoke to Black history — both present and past — which was a really fun project. I loved working on it with people and creating a different, sacred space within the BCC library which was really cool.” Okoronkwo said.
Okoronkwo is also an active participant in the larger community at Swarthmore as a DPA.
“I definitely hear a lot of things that I then go to try to work on as a DPA to encourage inclusivity and to encourage people to drop some of their ignorance about certain subjects,” said Okoronkwo.
According to Okoronkwo, his positions in SASA and in dorm life allows him to positively help two communities.
“[At SASA], we would talk about how some people have been addressed or the comments or jokes they heard that may have offended some people. And as a DPA I can then address those types of things outside of SASA,” said Okoronkwo. “So, I feel like I’m helping two communities: I’m helping one community grow and then helping another feel more welcome.”
Okoronkwo expressed wanting to be more involved in the process of planning the Black Excellence programming occurring this year. While he was invited to join the committee meetings as leadership of one of the BCC groups, he had a conflict that prevented him from joining the conversation.
“I love that we’re celebrating Black Excellence. However, they made it very difficult for me to join in on the conversations about the planning of Black Excellence because they meet when I have class,” said Okoronkwo. “I think allowing for more students to actually be able to access those meetings so [the committee] can hear those voices from different perspectives is something they can work on for the future.”
While Okoronkwo thinks the events and programming on campus are overall positive, he believes there should be more intentional incorporation of things representing the Black experience. Specifically, he found that the Black Excellence Celebration Kick Off could have included more music that highlighted Black culture.
“[The music at the event] wasn’t necessarily forthcoming to the Black experience and I feel that there could’ve been better music [selection] for a Black Excellence lunch,” Okoronkwo said. “More Black artists and more on the history of Black music like blues and jazz, could have made the experience a lot more enriching in terms of the Black experience.”
According to Okoronkwo, the biggest improvement the Black Excellence programming could make is making the celebration more visible and present on campus through more promotion.
“I want to see more promotions for these different events. I feel as if there are some times where I could forget that we’re celebrating Black Excellence and I don’t want to have that feeling,” Okoronkwo said. “I want to constantly notice that the driving force behind what’s happening this year on campus is the celebration of Black Excellence.”
For Okoronkwo, the increased visibility of the Black Excellence theme for the year should go beyond promoting certain events but incorporating the celebration throughout campus in many forms.
“There should be banners, music, and chill spaces where you could hear Black Excellence. There should be poetry from Black poets, music from Black artists, and art from Black people, just posted up everywhere,” said Okoronkwo. “That would be amazing and very enriching for the Black community and their experience — and not just the Black American experience.”