Mason Celebrates Black Excellence

Vijay Iyer/Fourth Estate

The fourth annual Black Excellence Gala celebrated the talents and achievements of Mason’s Black community


On Friday, Feb. 22, the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Multicultural Education (ODIME) + LGBTQ Resources hosted the fourth annual Black Excellence Gala in Dewberry Hall.

Dozens of “beautiful Black people, accomplices and allies,” as Assistant Director of Black/African heritage for ODIME + LGBTQ Resources Brandi Blake said, filled the room in a sea of fabulous all-white outfits. From mini dresses and faux fur to printed blazers and durags, each student allowed their personality and sense of style to shine while adhering to the all-white dress code. Those who opted out of wearing all-white either added pops of color to their look or wore monochromatic outfits in colors like red and blue instead.

The theme for the night was “The Awakening: Alive, Aware, Awake,” which was also the theme for the entire Black/African Heritage Month.

The event kicked off with a live painting by senior individualized study major Amini Bonane, accompanied by a performance by junior communication major Jordan Moser. Then a video played featuring images of Black art, notable Black history figures such as Malcolm X and James Baldwin, modern figures like Rihanna and Colin Kaepernick and Mason’s Black community before Blake took the stage to deliver the welcome.

“Remember, Black lives mattered yesterday, Black lives matter right now and Black lives matter forever into eternity,” Blake said.

She then gave the stage over to students Nnamdi Ojibe, Reema Abuelrish and Jermaine Azu, who were the hosts for the night.

Vijay Iyer/Fourth Estate

The Spot band provided most of the music for the evening, including a rendition of the Black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by James Weldon Johnson.

A number of students performed at the gala, including philosophy major India Moon, who sang Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good,” and global affairs major Destany Martin, who delivered an original spoken word piece.

Several faculty members spoke as well, such as Nicole Nicholas, assistant director for health and wellness in the Student Support and Advocacy Center. She delivered a speech about the importance of knowing your history and culture.

Nicholas explained that in the 400 years since the first Africans were stolen and brought to Virginia, Black people have been “disconnected from our culture.”

“It is imperative that we get to know ourselves,” she said. “We cannot continue to fight the fight against injustice without knowing who we are or where we come from … You can’t know yourself and where you’re going if you don’t know where you came from.”

Vijay Iyer/Fourth Estate

In addition to enjoying the performances, students also received awards at the gala. Some of the awards presented included the New Student of the Year Award, the Boost Award for students who are considered to be rising leaders, the MVP Award for stellar athletes, the Leadership Development Award and the Black Scholar Award. Two new awards were presented this year as well—the Concerned Citizen award, in which the winner also received $1,000, and the Black Artist Award.

Students weren’t the only ones to win awards. Mike Essiaw received the Distinguished Alumni Award, and Blake received the Pillar Award for faculty members who have supported students  through their time and effort.

Between performances and award presentations, students could enjoy food from the desert bar and take pictures on the miniature red carpet.

Although the Black Excellence Gala only lasted one night, the students and faculty at Mason showed that Black excellence never really ends.