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Mace and Crown | May 24, 2018

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Community members discuss race during "Sankofa" dinner

Justin Ross | Contributing Writer

The annual Sankofa [san.KO.fa] Black Student Dinner was held in the Big Blue Room of the Ted Constant Hall Convocation Center on Thursday Sept. 21. The demand for the event was clear as over 560 registered in advance. The dinner’s purpose, as noted by the official Sankofa flyer, was to engage in a transparent and heartfelt conversation with dynamic alumni.

The event itself was organized by Lesa Clark, executive director of ODU’s Office of Intercultural Relations, and was sponsored by the ODU Black Alumni Chapter, ODU National Pan-Hellenic Council, Coalition of Black and Administrators, and the Office of Intercultural Relations.

The meaning of the event is found within the name Sankofa, a word in Ghanaian Twi language that means “to reach and reclaim what our past has to teach us.” This was further highlighted by the experienced and professional Monarch alumni speakers who shared their wealth of knowledge during the event. The event itself was moderated by Monarch alumna Jaye D. Betancourt (’13). The speakers included Lauryn Johnson (’10), Ronnie Nelson Sidney II (’06), Kojo Asamoa-Caesar (’08), Xavier Ducket (’12 & ’16), and Charles A. Evans (’11).

Also in attendance for the event was ODU President John R. Broderick, who noted in his remarks that “Old Dominion University is devoted to maintaining a campus of openness and diversity.” In addition, Broderick stressed the Golden Rule, “The world itself would be a much better place if people followed the simple concept of treating others as we ourselves would like to be treated.”

The event opened with song, as the ODU Ebony Impact Gospel Choir led the audience in “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” also known as the Black National Anthem. Afterwards, the discussion began as the panel was asked a series of questions and shared their respective knowledge with the eager listeners in the audience. A member of the audience, Darlisha Davis, noted that, “the love that is in this room cannot be stopped. This is an inclusive community that is devoted to making change through active leadership and that is what the culture of ODU is all about.”

“What does it mean to be a visionary?” was the first question asked. “To be able to see beyond my circumstance,” answered Ronni Nelson Sidney II (’06) who has seven years of experience in special education and has helped hundreds through her creative medicine and creative writing program. “What legacy do I want to leave on this planet?” asked Nelson Sidney, continuing her response. “It is important that you fill in the gaps. Being a visionary is important to fill in that gap.” Nelson Sidney also noted that “As an African American, trauma is encoded in our DNA. It is important to find your gift and to help the community. For me, this was writing, books, and publishing to ‘skin the cat’ that is social inequity.”

The same question was also answered by President and Chief Executive Officer of Trust Incorporated, Lauryn Johnson. “Being a visionary is to paint a picture of the future or to change. To paint a picture to your goals, transition to that change and to be a visionary means to get from point a to point b. This also means to motivate yourself to that vision.”        

Another panelist of the Black ODU Alumni was former Monarch football lineman Xavier Ducket, who is currently president and CEO of The Humble Hustle Company Inc. “For me, making change was all about leading by example and being a conduit for that change. I was different, instead of going to the dorms I would go to the community centers and show my face to the people there. In doing so, I was able to show the younger people by example what can be achieved to reach their goals.”

Also during the event, Panelist Charles A. Evans (’11) noted five points and questions that need to be pondered on by every individual as they mature into their own unique individuals. “Who am I? Why am I here? Where do I come from? What can I do? This is most important of all, as each of us has potential to discover what we are capable of doing, and lastly, Where am I going? It is important for each individual to know where they are going in life; destiny plays an important part in this and making sacrifices toward that goal. Patience is also important and patience is all about what you do while you wait.”

As the event continued, an atmosphere of inclusiveness, openness and diversity was shared throughout the entire audience. The panelists themselves each shared unique insight and experience that furthered this atmosphere of open learning through open discussion. As Jamela Wesley of the ODU Student Government Association noted “we have to be one with each other and the community. During times of stress and uncertainty, Monarchs are here for each other. There is a higher law than the law of government and that is the law of conscience.”