African Student Union celebrates heritage, mental health awareness at University of Georgia

By Mikaela Cohen

To embrace African heritage and ignite a mental health discussion, the University of Georgia’s African Student Union showcased a series of traditional African dances weaved through a story of a modern African family facing mental health issues during the “African Night”

Students from all cultures joined the African Student Union at its sold-out annual performance “Africa Night” at the Fine Arts Theatre. Welcoming the crowd, members of ASU served fried rice, spicy chicken and jollof rice, a popular West African dish.

Members of UGA’s African Student Union perform at Africa Night 2020 on Friday, Feb. 28, 2020 in UGA’s Fine Arts Theatre. The sold-out show centered around a play about mental health issues with dances and fashion shows between acts. (Photo/Taylor Gerlach)Taylor Gerlach

The curtains opened with a plotline of a modern African family, two brothers and their mother. Both sons carry the weight of their mother’s heavy expectations, pushing them to become doctors or engineers. This is a common cultural expectation that African parents have for their children.

Amid the family’s plotline, traditional African dance sequences captivated the crowd and exhibited heritage from many different African cultures. All of the performers exited the stage with resounding applause and cheers of rejoice from the audience.

The plotline following the family develops throughout the three hour show, displaying a battle of mental illness as one of brothers is secretly battling depression. The mental illness overcomes him and he takes his own life.

To highlight the issue of mental illness in the black community, Anna Oguoma-Richards, ASU’s cultural secretary and the director of “Africa Night,” closed the event by stating society makes “being mentally-ill undesirable, but being mentally-ill and black unacceptable.”

Freshman biology and religion major Nadia Talebi said “Africa Night” is a great way for students to expose themselves to African culture. She said that even though she’s half-black, she hasn’t had much exposure to Afrian culture herself and “Africa Night” is the perfect way to do so.

Talebi said that it’s important for minorities to see their cultural backgrounds have presence at a predominantly white institution.

“Africa Night” is a way for all the actors to come together and tell their stories in different ways, said ASU’s presidential adviser Kamsi Ubezonu.

“It gives us a space to come together from different parts — Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa — but it’s also not restrained to just Africans,” Ubezonu said. “I have a lot of African American friends, Asian friends, American friends who come.”