“Fifty years of unity” was the tagline on the top of the flyers for the Black Student Union’s (BSU) 50th Anniversary Fashion Show. The idea of unity through heritage is one that BSU is very dedicated to, so it would make sense that it played a role in the theming of its celebration of such an important milestone. Founded in 1968, BSU was created to unify and teach students of African descent about their heritage. It serves as a community for black people on a predominately white campus to be with others who can relate to their struggles.
The show was titled “Black Pearl: Quest of Hidden Glory.” It followed a story of a boy who, before leaving Africa, is given a pearl and is told to not forget his roots. He loses it, though, leading the boy to be taken back in time to when his ancestors were being shipped off as slaves. The story was shown in segments and in between those segments, the models and performers took to the stage. The costumes and stage were beautiful, with a vibrant display of colors. Models of all different sizes walked the stage, which helped to show unity as well.
A highlight of the show was toward the end when, after the boy is taken back in time, the models come on stage with their wrists being bonded. Then each model comes center stage and breaks the bond around their wrist. It is a beautiful moment that tied perfectly into the show’s theme and into what BSU aims to do. You can interpret this moment as a reclaiming of power. BSU described the show as a “celebration of our culture and heritage” and “the reclamation of the voyage on the Middle Passage.” Obviously, this is referring to the slave ships that brought Africans to this country. This event was always remembered as a low point. The slave ships were a living hell for the Africans on board: there was no bathroom, they weren’t really feed well or at all. We know that some even jumped ship to end the suffering.
Despite that, BSU chose to focus on the strength that our ancestors had through those times. It chose to focus on their endurance, their ability to overcome even in the face of the highest adversity. That moment when the models broke the bondage, it was more than just a fashion show, it was a statement. “No longer will this journey be called the Middle Passage, it shall be called The Golden Ship to show homage to the start of our journey.” They’re taking back what belongs to them. This all ties back to the black pearl given to the boy. The black pearl represents our roots, our heritage, the start of our journey. By going back in time to the ship, our protagonist is learning about his roots.
In this sense, the fashion show was the perfect way to celebrate BSU’s 50th year by demonstrating, on stage, the very thing it has always set out to do: to unify and teach students of African descent about their heritage. This is why it should be a celebration that they’ve reached this milestone. We grow up knowing so little about our history. America is an extremely divided nation, and black people are divided among themselves. If we learn about our roots, about where we all started, we could all come together and help each other. We can go further than we already are. In order to go further, though, we need to look back at our roots, our black pearls, hidden glory, indeed.