Braving the cold, icy weather Wednesday night, students and faculty gathered to hear influential political commentator, lawyer and advocate Angela Rye deliver the Black Student Union’s Black History Month keynote lecture in Forum Hall.
Rye discussed issues currently facing racial minority communities and opened the lecture with a question-and-answer style venue where students were able to ask about issues and share events that they personally have experienced.
Del’Sha Roberts, BSU president and senior in biology and pre-medicine, introduced Rye to the audience along with her personal achievements. While being a lawyer, Rye has also contributed to multiple media outlets and helped to co-found a nonprofit called IMPACT.
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Rye then took the stage and offered praise to the BSU executive board for their hard work and dedication as she transitioned to jokes about the cold weather, beginning her “town hall” Q&A session.
One student respondent described a recent incident where a white woman touched his hair unannounced and uninvited, causing the student to feel uncomfortable. Audience members then responded with other stories of similar instances. Rye herself said she had a similar experience when a colleague on CNN tried to touch her hair.
“It kind of feels like probably how animals feel in a petting zoo or something is on display,” Rye said. “There is this state of awe.”
Students then asked about how to overcome barriers when working or studying. Rye said she tries to find something to unwind with and clear her head.
“You want to do something that you want to do so you can get to the things you’re supposed to do,” Rye said.
Topics ranged from divisions within minority communities, personal identity and federal and local politics.
“You’re not going to conquer oppression by taking out the frustration of your oppression against another oppressed party,” Rye said. “That’s not how you’re going to get ahead.”
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Students then aired grievances about not being true to themselves or feeling self-loathing due to societal pressures. Rye said it is important to know one’s ancestral memory.
“We carry the burden and the sins that were committed upon the ancestor with us,” Rye said. “We carry this with how we see ourselves, with what we deem ourselves capable of. It’s the thing that would make somebody say about Barack Obama, ‘Oh, he can never be president.'”
Rye then added that the best thing is to be yourself and determine what it means to be professional versus being “unapologetically black.”
“I’m not about to become uncomfortable so you can be comfortable,” Rye said. “I’m going to be exactly who I am.”
Rye was then asked about the importance of local government. Rye recalled an example of a Charlottesville, Virginia vice mayor who passed an equity package making housing, education and other items more affordable to minority communities. She said this package had more weight for the community and faster results than state or federal packages would.
“It’s abundantly important, especially in an environment like this where there very well could be another shutdown,” Rye said. “The local level and state level really matter.”
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In closing, Rye added that activism is not just required during Black History Month — the work continues outside of February.
“Don’t ever think that your voice isn’t important or loud enough,” Rye said. “Live your life in your best way.”
A loud standing ovation was given to Rye before she stood for pictures with audience members.
Many in the audience had very positive reactions to the lecture.
“I thought it was great,” said Elijah Gardner, BSU vice president and sophomore in biology. “I’m a huge fan of Angela Rye — seeing her on CNN, listening to her interviews and being on the Breakfast Club [podcast]. Hearing that type of stuff and actually getting to see her in person and just seeing how every small detail with her mannerisms and how she still uses the same verbiage and be sophisticated.”
With more events scheduled for the remainder of Black History Month, BSU members are excited.
“We plan on celebrating for the rest of the month,” Roberts said. “We have a lot of good stuff in store for campus, so come enjoy.”
When asked about her overall reaction to the lecture, Zanaiya Peebles, BSU delegate and junior in biology, said she appreciated Rye’s relatability.
“I think it’s always interesting to see how the keynote speakers are able to relate to us, and they make it feel really personal,” Peebles said.
The next event the Black Student Union will host is a screening of the film “The Hate U Give” on Feb. 8 and 9 at 7 p.m and 9:45 p.m. in the Wildcat Chamber in the Student Union.