Tuesday night, the lights dimmed in the Student Center Pit as the Humans of Rowan cultural showcase began. Sponsored by the Chamberlain Student Center & Campus Activities and the Office of Social Justice, Inclusion & Conflict Resolution, the event allowed students to recite poetry, tell personal stories and perform songs that reflected their experiences and made them who they are today.
The host for the evening was Rowan alum Charles Ozuna. He introduced a video on “The Humans of New York,” a photo project started by Brandon Stanton, which inspired “The Humans of Rowan” Instagram page, now run by junior physics major Austin O’Neill.
“I’m painting a larger picture of the students and faculty of Rowan University,” O’Neill said.
Kianna Price, a senior Africana studies major, kicked off the performances with her poem “Too Black, Not Black Enough.”
“They say you’re too aggressive, too intimidating, too black,” Price said in her poem, which was well-received by the audience. “They want you to silence your thoughts and your ideas and enter the space quietly and take what is given to you because that’s how you prove you’re black enough.”
Anthony Ramos, a senior business management major, told his personal story of failure, success and perseverance in the face of an alcohol violation on campus.
“It doesn’t matter where you start, it’s where you finish,” Ramos said. “People can be dealt certain situations. I was the first couple years here, but I managed to get through and make a pretty good life for myself.”
Reciting her own poem, “Black Brother, Black Sister,” junior biological sciences major Nayamah Kolliegbo drew applause and positivity during and after her performance.
“Next time they tell you, ‘You don’t know the struggle,’ say, ‘Nah, the struggle don’t know me’,” Kolliegbo said in her passionate and spiritual recital. She received cheers from many in the audience.
The next performance was a work of slam poetry by Brynn Jones, a freshman psychology major, entitled “Gender Identity.” Jones identifies as non-binary.
“There are a lot of labels out there and we’re supposed to choose them, and put ourselves in a box, but sometimes you don’t fit in any box,” Jones said. “If there’s someone out there who hears that, they’ll know they’re not alone.“
The final performance of the night came from Steven Solkela, a junior music major. Solkela entertained the audience with stories of his failed bicycle trip to Minnesota, near-fatal hypothermia in Canada and not fitting in while growing up in poverty. He performed three songs, including “Sunny Day in Glassboro,” his most recognized tune by those in attendance.
“I embrace individuality and refortify in my mind that it’s good to be a discernable character,” Solkela said. “I try to embrace how unique I am because I don’t have the other option of fitting in. Remember what Tetris teaches us: once you fit in, you disappear.”
Afterward, the speakers, audience members and coordinators joined in a networking session with food and drinks.
The planners for the event, Carly Samuels and Dr. J. T. Mills, introduced a new event for next year called “Dear World” that uses photography to tell the stories of thousands of people, much like Humans of Rowan.
“I think it’s in line with what we were already thinking and certainly matches up with what we are trying to promote,” Mills said. “That students do bring unique stories to campus and if we take the time to listen to each other, we have a lot more in common with each other than we think. Those stories transcend life, race, ethnicity and different cultures.”
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