At the end of February, the Black Student Union partnered with the Our Growth Project to put on their Black History Month event. Students and community members gathered in the Back Alley to enjoy a talent showcase portion and listen to three leaders in the Sioux Falls community speak about their experiences as entrepreneurs and activists.
Our Growth Project is an organization in Sioux Falls that focuses on uplifting youth through art, entertainment and education. Recent Augustana graduate Sul Dibba and local musician Soleil Bashale, who are both involved in the organization, facilitated the night by making the audience laugh and introducing speakers.
To start off the event, BSU leaders sophomore Henry Sule and freshman Rachida Mahamed jointly performed a poem they had written together.
“Tell me, do your morals scream correct?” Mohamed asked.
Sul Dibba followed their piece with his own about individual growth and the support of his community.
“You know I stand tall when I walk with my fellowship,” Dibba said.
He ended the poem by urging the audience to be patient because growth takes time. Dibba and Bashale then introduced four leaders of the BSU to the stage. The four women performed step, which they said is a traditional style of dance that originated in West Africa. They used their hands, feet, chest and thighs to create rhythms and beats while the audience cheered them on.
BSU member Benita Manzengo braved the stage to sing in French, her first language. She said the song was about how “we don’t even know if we have enough time with the people we love.”
After a brief 10 minute intermission, an intense game of heads or tails was announced by Jamal Wurtz, director of operations at Our Growth Project. The first speaker of the night, Julian Beaudion, was called to the stage.
Beaudion who is the co-owner of Swamp Daddy’s Cajun Kitchen located in downtown Sioux Falls spoke about his involvement with the South Dakota African American History Museum and experience with addiction in his family. Beaudion is involved with a project called Faces Together that helps families and individuals struggling with substance abuse.
“Let’s start talking about addiction,” Beaudion said. “If we don’t know about it, we can’t talk about it.”
Beaudion said he wants the conversation surrounding addiction to reflect conversations about mental illness. He said the two problems are similar and those struggling with them need community support.
Sioux Falls native JJ Johnson, who founded a nonprofit school called ACE Academy, was the next speaker of the night. She said her experiences growing up in a school where she was the only Black student inspired her to create a holistic learning environment centered around diversity and inclusion.
“Everything we do is centered around our students,” Johnson said. “Students are super intelligent. We really have to understand the kids we are teaching.”
ACE Academy integrates project-based learning — a method of teaching that engages students with projects that are applicable to the real world — as early as kindergarten. Johnson said her school started in 2020 with only 11 students. Currently, the school has 49 students enrolled in its program.
The final speaker of the night was Bobby Lloyd Peacock, co-founder of the Hazard Film Project in Sioux Falls. The nonprofit organization advocates for diversity and inclusion in cinema.
“Everybody has a world view,” Peacock said. “Everyone has a pair of glasses they see the world through.”
Peacock said starting conversations with people about social injustice breaks down barriers. He uses three methods in scenarios of growth: Ask questions, understand personal goals and don’t allow emotions to get too high, otherwise, logic will be low.
Before Peacock ended his speech, he showed a teaser for a new film that will be released by the Hazard Film Project on May 10.
At the end of the event, members of BSU, Our Growth Project and the audience gathered together on stage for a group photo. The group yelled one more time OGP’s signature phrase, “Keep growing!”