Student organizations celebrate African music, fashion and culture

Black Ball returns and African Society hosts inaugural fashion charity showcase


Charlene Nsengimana, ’24, models a Rwandan umushanana. Photo courtesy of @africansocietywlu.

Catherine McKean

Black Ball returned to Washington and Lee Feb. 5 for the first time since COVID-19 caused campus to close in 2020, with a unique theme: Carnaval. 

The Student Association for Black Unity, SABU, kicked off Black History Month with Black Future Leaders Experience (FLEX) Conference with this event in Evans Hall. 

The Black Ball was well attended with about 100 guests, but the event still complied with current COVID-19 health guidelines, despite concerns that prevented collaboration with Southern Virginia University.

SABU Social Chair Sarai Warrick, ’23, said she and other students were happy to have the ball return to campus.

“It was great to see people come together and dance and enjoy great food,” Warrick said. “It was also a bit stressful because we had to live up to the hype of Black Balls of the past and introduce it to the lowerclassmen who haven’t gotten a chance to experience one while also pleasing the upperclassmen who have.”

Warrick also spoke on the unique nature of Black Ball at Washington and Lee.

“Black Ball has been different every year. There was even a period of time between 1985 and 2010 where Black Ball wasn’t hosted,” said Warrick. “The best part of this year’s Black Ball was the theme. It was certainly unique for Washington and Lee and it was interesting to see people’s interpretations of it.” 

The theme of this year’s Black Ball was Carnival, styled after the Carnavals featured in the Caribbean, Brazil and other nations of African diaspora. 

Exploring the African diaspora is part of the larger theme of Global Cooperation chosen by SABU Executive members. Global Cooperation was explored during the Black FLEX Conference with a collection of interactive workshops and panels for registered students, and included discussions on professionalism, advocacy and sustainable development.  The leadership conference also emphasized diversity and a celebration of culture, which reflected back to the ball.

SABU worked with Dining Services to create a menu of Caribbean dishes for the ball’s attendees to enjoy. The menu included Jamaican rice and peas, fried plantains, jerk chicken wings with pineapple chili sauce, coconut macaroons and orange rum pound cake with tropical fruit.

SABU also created a playlist of over one hundred Caribbean and Brazilian Carnaval tunes for attendees to dance to, which can be found under “BlackBall: Carnival” on Warrick’s public Spotify account.

Ewunik McCarthy, ’24, said her favorite parts of Black Ball were the music and time spent having fun with friends.

“The music was awesome. It was a mixture of reggae, pop and Afro beats, which was great, definitely the best part of my night,” McCarthy said. “Everyone came with a positive energy, so it was fun dancing and chatting with people.”

The founders of SABU will celebrate the 50th anniversary of their own Alumni Black Ball March 5. Although current student members of SABU will not collaborate in the planning for that event, they will be able to meet with and have conversations with alumni at on-campus brunches. 

SABU has much more in store for the rest of Black History Month, such as a Keynote Brunch with featured speakers Eugene Perry, ’74, and Amber Cooper, ’12, on Feb. 12, a presentation of Black Greek life advocacy by AKA Tau Zeta on March 2, and a painting session in Reeves Museum on March 5. The organization encourages those wanting to get involved to keep up with events on SABU’s instagram page at @wlusabu.

Washington and Lee’s African Society also recently celebrated the theme of the African diaspora with their first annual Charity Benefit Showcase on Jan. 22, which was co-sponsored by Student Activities and the Office of Inclusion and Engagement.

Betelihim Haile, ’22, Co-President of the African Society, spoke on how the showcase reflected the Society’s mission to advocate for and celebrate life on the African continent.

“We wanted to showcase African culture through fashion, poetry and languages to promote awareness while giving back to our community,” said Haile.

The fashion showcase’s inaugural event was received with much enthusiasm, and attendees and coordinators alike look forward to the showcase becoming an annual event.

“It was the perfect opportunity to see how people dress in different parts of Africa while gaining insight into why various styles are worn on different occasions,” said McCarthy. 

“We hope to have many more in the future,” added Haile.

Prior to the showcase, the African Society posted advertisements calling for students to model traditional African attire at the event.

“All of the models we had were volunteers, so the clothing that was presented was based on any attire they may have brought from their respective country,” said Haile. “Most of the models had their own attire and allowed other models who didn’t to borrow some for the show.”

Charlene Nsengimana, ’24, an international student from Rwanda, talked about the outfit she modeled and her experience participating in the showcase.

“The outfit I wore is called an umushanana and is worn for traditional ceremonies back home, like weddings or other important events. It’s made up of a long wrapped skirt and a top that is pinned on one shoulder and draped around your torso,” said Nsengimana. “Modeling for the event was definitely out of my comfort zone, but it was nice being able to share my culture with the community.”

Tickets to the showcase cost $10, and the proceeds were donated to two charities chosen by the African Society’s event coordinator, Neissa Usanase, ’24.

The Water for South Sudan Charity Organization and the Kalkidan Children’s Healthcare Charity Organization are international aid organizations that are currently working to directly support African countries. The Water for South Sudan Charity delivers sustainable services to improve hygiene and sanitation, while the Kalkidan Children’s Healthcare Charity supports medical services and infrastructure creation for vulnerable children in Ethiopia.

As of Feb. 9, the African Society has raised $936.71 for the two charities. They are still accepting donations, the form for which can be accessed in the bio of their instagram at @africansocietywlu.