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Students reflect on importance of culture, community at Rites of Passage ceremony

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Ja-Amen beats the drum at the Rites of Passage event, which honors the circle of life, the journey of ancestors and one’s personal journey in life, on Sept. 3 at the Ludwick Center. / photo by William Hardy

Ja-Amen beats the drum at the Rites of Passage event, which honors the circle of life, the journey of ancestors and one’s personal journey in life, on Sept. 3 at the Ludwick Center. / photo by William Hardy

Greta Taylor
Staff Writer

About 40 members of the University of La Verne community came together for the Rites of Passage event Sept. 3 to emphasize the importance of community and knowledge.

The beat of a drum played by Ja-Amen resonated in the Ludwick Center Sacred Space.

The circular shape of the room further reflected the purpose of the event.

Misty Levingston, associate director of multicultural affairs and Black student services, introduced the event about culture and community.

”I would hope students will learn something new about their culture or another culture,” Levingston said.

Rites of passage are about the circle of life, the journey of ancestors, and the personal journey.  Every chair was filled and some students stood in the back among University faculty and staff including University President Devorah Lieberman.

The event was sponsored by Black Student Services, The Center for Multicultural Services and other organizations.

Renee Barnes, a religion and philosophy student, performed luminal space and libations.

The purpose of these rituals is  to honor the ancestors, Banes said.

“To know that our ancestors have given us the tools we need to get through a passage point, because we all pass through some points of our lives,” Barnes said.

Richard Rose, professor of religion and philosophy emphasized the deep connection between people, the past, the present, and the planet.

“I hope the students would see the link between indigenous cultures, concern for the earth and our (University’s) values and how important it is to use those things as foundational principles to build our future,” Rose said.

After the program, participants moved to the Reflection Pond for the passing of the flame ceremony.

Rose spoke of fire as a representation of knowledge and water to represent wisdom, peacemaking, purity, and cleaning.  He also incorporated the theory of yin, yang, and the cultural significance of elements.

As participants lit the candle of the person next to them they said: “I will take what I learned and pass it on to others.”

Drake Ingram, sophomore criminology major and president of Brother’s Forum, said cultural education is the key to unity.

“Encourage learning. Take a Black course, take any (cultural) course that’s not the predominant (culture),” Ingram said.

For Black students at The University of La Verne and throughout California, finding an identity and belonging on university campuses is often fleeting.  According to the U.S. Census, only 6.5% of California’s population is Black.  As of Fall 2020, the ULV population of Black students was 6.5%.

“I have support here,” Ingram said.

The same sentiment was felt by Dominique Stevens. She is in her second year of a five-year doctoral program in clinical psychology and she was the only Black student in the program until last year.

“This is my first semester on campus, seeing the community here felt powerful,” Stevens said.

Stevens was also touched by the responsive reading led by Barnes, which read in part: “There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens. There is a time for serious study and a time to hang out with homies.Institutional racism… have had their time, it is time for equality and fairness to permeate the land.mThere is a time for COVID-19 and a time for COVID-19 to finally go away.”

The audience responded after each line with “Let it be so.”

The afternoon ended with a prayer by University Chaplain Zandra Wagoner reiterating that unity is a light of hope.

“La Verne is a small but rich community,” Levingston said.

The Center for Multicultural Service’s next events include a virtual Latinx heritage month series throughout September, and a one-day diversity retreat in October.  Students can visit Campus Labs for more information.

Greta Taylor can be reached at greta.taylor@laverne.edu.

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