Afrika stage! brings the culture of black fraternity sorority life to the city
SOUTH BEND – Dexter Overall has spent his entire career in higher education at four-year colleges.
But when he heard about a job offer at Ivy Tech Community College, he jumped at the opportunity to apply. Overall, he’s been Director of Diversity, Equity, Belonging and Student Life at Ivy Tech for just over a year.
âI applied for this position because I personally have a passion for educating students and I have a passion for showing how important it is to become involved in your institution’s efforts that are taking place in outside of the classroom, âOverall said.
He has spent much of the past year making connections with other community organizations and using his office to show how art can be a way to promote diversity and make people feel like they belong. .
At the height of the pandemic, his department launched a monthly arts event called the âSoul Sessions Seriesâ.
âIt requires cultural experiences and intercultural communication and allows us to discuss equity and belonging,â he said. “But it’s done through the prism of the performing arts.”
The next event in the series is Wednesday when New York-based educational and performance troupe Step Afrika! comes to the South Bend Civic Theater, 403 N, Main St.
The show is sponsored by Ivy Tech, the South Bend Civic Theater and South Bend Chapters of Indiana Black Expo, and the National Pan-Hellenic Council, which is an organization that promotes cooperation among the nine historically black fraternities and sororities.
C. Brian Williams founded Step Afrika! in 1994. Williams, a graduate of Howard University, also joined the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity during his undergraduate years. It was during her initiation into the fraternity that Williams took part in step performances, highly choreographed, rhythmic, impactful and entertaining.
After graduating, Williams taught in Africa and it was there that he saw a variety of dances, including the “gumboot” dance in South Africa. Dance Africa! merges these traditional African dances with the step performances that have been performed on college campuses by “Divine Nine” fraternities and sororities for many years.
Overall, himself a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, said he was lucky enough to attend Step Afrika! shows, and I figured bringing the cast to South Bend would be one way of fulfilling the show’s mission by showcasing an aspect of black culture that a lot of people might not be familiar with.
This is precisely why the Indiana Black Expo wanted to get involved, said Latorya Greene, chairman of the South Bend chapter.
âAny opportunity that we have to be able to celebrate African American culture and present it in a positive light, we support it,â said Greene. âThis is a great opportunity to bring the beauty of walking to the community.
“It will be a reminder for those who know it, and for those who do not know it is a great opportunity to learn more about this great art form,” she said.
The Pas Afrika! The show will take place at the South Bend Civic Theater. And while the arrangement brings the performance to a venue that has a performance stage, Overall and Aaron Nichols, executive director of South Bend Civic, say there’s more to this alliance than logistical convenience.
“The programming lines up between the two organizations, which really adds a lot more power to the collaboration … But more importantly, we have a common belief that we must continue to organize these kinds of events and initiatives. in the city, âOverall said. .
Nichols agreed and added that Wednesday’s event is not the first time that Civic has worked with Overall and Ivy Tech’s Department of Diversity, Equity, Belonging and Student Life.
Nichols said the theater has recruited Globally for its Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access task force. This ultimately led to civil society lending their space to the Department of Overall for a drag show that took place during Pride Month.
Nichols is also making the space available to other arts and community organizations as part of the theater company’s outreach efforts. Groups like 100 Black Men and La Casa de Amistad have organized events there.
âOur main job will be to produce live theater, but there are a lot of nights we don’t produce and on those nights I want to fill the setup with local organizations that do a great job,â Nichols said. . “We want to amplify and give voice to groups in our community.”
Nichols also noted that Civic has directed several plays written by black playwrights, with his 10-year commitment to performing the works of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson being the most recent example.
However, these pieces often tackle serious themes, and for many, an event like Step Afrika! could be a welcome change of pace.
Overall says Step Afrika! The show is an opportunity for people to learn more about the people who live in their community.
âI think we are in a time when everyone needs to seek knowledge about the people around them,â he said, âand this is the time to highlight the achievements of the under- represented “.
Email South Bend Tribune reporter Howard Dukes at [email protected]
Follow him on Twitter: @DukesHoward