Rites of Passage ceremony celebrates Black tradition and culture

Hailey Martinez
Staff Writer

Roughly 20 students, faculty and staff gathered for the University’s third annual Rites of Passage ceremony Sept. 9 in the Ludwick Center Sacred Space to honor community, rich spiritual and cultural African traditions. 

The event was a collaboration among the Black Faculty and Staff Association, the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, the Center for Multicultural Services, the religion and philosophy department, LaFetra College of Education, Career Services and the Office of Religion and Spiritual Life. 

To start off the ceremony, Tycoon Djembe drummer Jah-Amen Mobley played his drum as four Black Student Union members walked into the sacred space. 

“We want to acknowledge that we gather on the traditional land of people, past and present,” Alexandra Burrel, chief equity and inclusion officer, began. “And we honor with gratitude the land itself and the people who have stored it throughout the generations.”

Burrel welcomed the students back for another academic year. Given the current tumult of the world the past couple of years, Burrel called for a deeper level of reflection on who we are and the relationships we have with one another. 

A rite is an act or set of rituals having to do with individual growth and community. Rites of passage are performed across cultures according to the individual culture’s customs. In traditional African cultures, there are five rites, which include birth, adulthood, marriage, eldership and ancestorship. 

Richard Rose, professor of religion and philosophy, invited attendees to pray, prepare and support one another in their next stage of life to make sure that they not only survive in this world but to also thrive in it. 

“We only ask at this time to take charge and bless this service,” Rose said, adding his hope that “what is done here will be inspirational and transforming as the level of increased learning and maturity falls upon these students.” 

With climate change, fires, floods and COVID, our normal way of life has changed. 

Rites of Passage ceremonies represent the transitions of the various stages of life.

“Today we acknowledge the type of transition for our incoming freshperson plan,” Rose said. “But more broadly, we recognize the transition of culture, society and global humanity to become more sensitive to their breath, the living breath that we all share during this time.”

Veronica Escoffery-Runnels, associate professor of educational counseling, commenced the libation as Mobley played the drums.

“A libation is a tribute, an honor, respect and reverence to our ancestors,” Escoffery-Runnels said. 

Escoffery-Runnels asked attendees to think of someone who has helped them thrive. She poured water into a bowl as attendees said the names of the ones that inspire them to keep pushing forward everyday. 

After the libation, students pledged to help build and maintain the University’s African American community and made a promise to support Black students. 

With COVID putting a stop to many things, it was difficult to be involved in a community, and it was difficult to support our communities. 

Senior criminology major Drake Ingram, former president of Brothers’ Forum, encouraged people to move forward and be active.

“I pray that you guys continue to inspire one another, support one another,” Ingram added.

Following a solo performance by Mobley, Melissa Moss, academic and employee experiences manager, introduced the water and fire ceremony.

“Water up, fire down – an energy principle to create calmness, clarity and a lifetime of health,” Moss said. “When you have good energy flow according to water up fire down you’re in harmony with nature’s balance.”

The Rites of Passage ceremony ended with a closing prayer by University Chaplain Zandra Wagoner. The audience practiced taking in the water and fire principle to clear their minds of clarity and receive happiness throughout their journey. 

Daniel Loera, director of multicultural affairs, said he hopes students experience a sense of community as they acknowledge their transitions throughout life.

“We want them to know that they are not alone,” Loera said. 

Hailey Martinez can be reached at hailey.martinez@laverne.edu.

Hailey Martinez is a junior journalism major with a photography minor. She is a staff writer for the Campus Times and a staff photographer for the Campus Times and La Verne Magazine.


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