“Africans united can never be defeated. Every human being in here is an African, because the continent is your mother. Being an African is sequentially being human. Africans are of all colors, as homosapiens originated from Africa,” said Dr. Tamrat Tedeme, a speaker at Africa Night.
This Saturday, Dec. 6, was a night for culture and unity at the campus of St. Cloud State University through Africa Night. This date marked the 20th anniversary of the event, which was put on through African Student Association (ASA). The event was hosted in the Atwood Ballroom, which was filled with students and community members. A team of public safety officers surrounded the area to ensure the public’s safety with such large numbers in attendance of the event.
The atmosphere in the ballroom was composed of energy and excitement as the cultural program began with an overview of the countries in Africa, including their flags. As each flag appeared on a power point, various audience members cheered for their countries of connection. Throughout the cheering, clapping and chanting, the loudest originated from the final slide featuring the flag of the United States of America.
After a poem highlighting the importance and culture of Africa, read by Daniela Blanton, the program was underway. Dances and performances were featured by individuals representing various countries in Africa. Along with the dances, issues were brought to attention. Overall challenges include unity, peace, solace and healing, especially through the Ebola outbreak and HIV.
Keynote speaker Decontee Sawyer provided her personal experience with Ebola, as her husband Patrick Sawyer was the first U.S. citizen to die from the disease.
Patrick Sawyer worked as a top government official in the Liberian Ministry of Finance, and had just made a trip to Liberia. He had one stop to make before heading home to Minnesota to celebrate his daughters’ birthday: a conference in Nigeria. But, after landing in Lagos, Nigeria, Patrick collapsed after getting off the plane.
Patrick was hospitalized July 20, and died a short five days later. Decontee was made aware of his sickness just 24 hours before he died.
“At 3 a.m. I got the call that he didn’t make it. In that moment, the world as I knew it shattered. The walls came tumbling down. Ebola had taken over,” Decontee said. “I kept thinking of my three daughters, Eva, Mia and Bella. At the time they were five, four and eighteen months old. They would grow up never knowing this man I fell in love with, never knowing their father. It broke my heart more than anything else.”
Decontee expressed the despair she felt during that time, but explained how she found strength after the hardship.
“I finally decided to wake up and stop crying, because the more I cried, the more I realized people were dying in Africa, Nigeria, Liberia, and Guinea… I wanted to be a part of stopping that. It wasn’t enough for me to just sit home and feel bad and weak,” Decontee said. “I had a spirit in me that was groomed right here at St. Cloud State University that says you have to be a fire; you can’t just sit down and feel sorry for yourself.”
It was after this pivotal moment that she made the steps to become involved in the aid and prevention of Ebola. She joined with Samaritan’s Purse and Global Health Ministries to raise money and goods for those affected by Ebola. She said she felt empowered through helping and was able to get strength back.
Decontee concluded with the same resounding message of Dr. Tademe, that Africans united can never be defeated, and that we must all join together to solve the problem of Ebola.
There were presentations of awards given to student organizations who had worked to bring awareness to the Ebola conflict, as well as advisor awards given to ASA members. Following awards, there was a crowning of the 2014 King and Queen, and a dance.
Africa Night marked the final cultural event of 2014; the next will be Ethiopian Night on Jan. 24, 2015.
The African Students Association presented Africa Night Dec. 5, Saturday night at the Atwood Memorial Center