The Black community at the University of La Verne was welcomed with the Rites of Passage, a traditional African spiritual ritual at noon Sept. 18 via Zoom.
The event was a way for the University of La Verne to acknowledge and welcome their new Black students to campus.
It was led by Richard Rose, professor of religion and philosophy, who told attendees that the Rites of Passage ritual can be observed being practiced all across the African continent.
The event was centered around the passing of the flame from the old guard to the new.
Misty Levingston, associate director of multicultural affairs and Black student services, hosted and acted as a moderator for the event.
Levingston said that this event helps build community at the University. She added that such events are not limited to La Verne’s Black students, but are also open to everyone in the community. It is about bringing in the larger community to support the Black community of students to create one community that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Levingston said that she is determined to make this event an annual occurrence. She believes that the event enriches both the student and the community. She also believes that it will help with retention and graduation. Levingston said that when a student feels welcome and not isolated, they find their own place in the community.
Approximately 60 people attended. The Zoom chat was flooded with positive comments from the audience throughout the event.
“When you walk on campus and see someone who looks like you, has the same hair as you, and maybe even talks like you, it makes all the difference,” said Kylie Fetui-Turner, president of the Black Student Union at the University.
The afternoon service started out with the poem “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” by James Waldon Johnson and set to music by John Rosamond Johnson in 1899. James Waldon Johnson was an NAACP leader and John Rosamond Johnson was his brother. Today, it is referred to as the Black National Anthem.
“The words speak truth and speak the experiences of African Americans in this country,” Rose said.
“It shows there’s always going to be a brighter day,” Levingston added.
The passing of the flame, which is a symbol of all the knowledge of the University and its alumni, was a significant part of the event. Rose said that the passing of the flame connects students to a history that is much larger than the moment. This flame, or knowledge, was passed on to Fetui-Turner, a class of 2022 business major, who now represents the next generation of students at the University of La Verne. The flame was passed from Rose to Fetui-Turner in a manner that made it seem like the flame was actually being passed through the screens. The flame moved out of frame so that Fetui-Turner could grab it from out of the frame and into her screen.
“It was a great honor,” Fetui-Turner said. “It meant the world to me to be able to accept it and be in that position.”
Levingston explained that light is a symbol in every culture. This light was passed from a professor who’s been a part of the school for years, to an alumni, and ends with a current student who represents the incoming students.
Fetui-Turner said that she would definitely want to be involved with this event again, whether it be in person or online.
“Coming to a new school, with 6% Black students on campus, this would make you feel more welcomed on campus,” Fetui-Turner said.
Rhane Moore, president of the Brothers Forum, led the group in reciting the Black Student Pledge. Moore, a class of 2022 rhetoric and communications major, said that the pledge helps to combat the feeling of isolation that a Black student can experience.
Moore said this event was important to have because it shows what it means to be inclusive and shows togetherness as a community on campus. It is a sign for incoming students that there are people on campus that care about them.
The passing of the flame made Moore reflect on his journey through school and how he can be a mentor and role model to incoming freshmen.
Moore said that this should be a recurring event that welcomes change and gets more people included on campus. He would definitely be interested in being involved with this event.
The Rites of Passage event was sponsored by the Center for Multicultural Services and Black Student Services, the Black Faculty and Staff Association, and the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and the Department of Religion and Philosophy.
Sebastian Ibarra can be reached at email@example.com.