Food for the soul (and stomach)

Hamline Black Student Collective’s (BSC) annual Soul Food Dinner on Feb. 26 celebrated the end of Black History Month (BHM) and emphasized the importance of leaning on community.

Hamline’s BSC celebrated the end of Black History Month on Feb. 26 with their annual Soul Food Dinner and accompanying program. (Lydia Meier)

Laughter, light, flavors and music filled Anderson Center on Feb. 26 as the Hamline community gathered for Hamline’s Black Student Collective (BSC) annual Soul Food Dinner. Organizers estimate around 250 attendees, including Hamline students, faculty, administrators, staff and guests, who filled their plates with food from local restaurants Mama Sheila’s, Trio Plant-Based and Sabrina’s Cafe. 

The dinner was BSC’s grand finale to a full Black History Month events calendar. Throughout February, BSC hosted events showcasing local Black artists and professionals. Hamline junior and BSC’s Black History Month Coordinator Asma’a Omar said that this year, her goal was to plan events that would bring Hamline’s Black community closer together.

Sophomore and BSC secretary Nyila Green was the lead for this year’s Soul Food Dinner. BSC often hosted galas at Hamline before COVID-19, Green said, noting that she wanted to channel that energy for this year’s dinner.

“I really wanted to make this a really strong collective event. And just bringing together all groups of people; giving something for people to get excited about and dressed up about,” Green said.

A dance floor, photo backdrop, formal dress code and specific seating arrangements emphasized Green’s goals, as well as a curated dinner program hosted by BSC executive board members.

Former BSC president and Hamline senior Jazmin Clausen-Thomas shared her thoughts on the power of rest and the importance of taking up space. (Lydia Meier)

After a land acknowledgement by BSC president Tawny Plentyhorse, junior Mohamed Shukri, senior Jazmin Clausen-Thomas and first-year Nasra Shube led the audience in singing the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by James Weldon Johnson. After a few moments, President Miller surprised the students and attendees by taking the microphone from Shukri and joining the rendition.

The program also included community awards, a performance from local band Gifted Handz and speeches from Clausen-Thomas and Miller.

Clausen-Thomas, the 2021-2022 BSC president, began her speech by honoring Anna Arnold Hedgeman, the first Black woman to graduate from Hamline University (class of 1922) and a key organizer of the 1963 March on Washington.

“She paved the way for Black students at this institution and I thank her dearly for that,” Clausen-Thomas said. “Anna Arnold Hedgeman has inspired me to keep fighting, keep helping and keep moving.”

Clausen-Thomas also reflected on the lessons she’s learned during her time at Hamline.

“I feel that I have learned that I belong in every space I walk into. No matter what identities I may hold, I deserve a place at the table and I deserve to be heard. This notion is true for all of you as well. You deserve to share your story. You deserve to feel proud for who you are, and of your accomplishments,” she said.

She also shared some parting words that offered advice for her peers. 

 “I want to remind you that you do not have to carry everything on your shoulders… taking care of yourself is a radical act in itself,” Clausen-Thomas said. “As a person of color, there was a time when I felt like I needed to be everywhere at once. I have realized now that I don’t have to. Moreover, I hope you all know that there is power in resting. There is power in having confidence in yourself and setting limits.”

After Clausen-Thomas, President Miller spoke, reflecting on her experiences as a Black woman in academia.

BSC celebrates on the dance floor after dinner.

“I’ve been in higher ed now for well over 35 years. And in most of the environments I’ve been in, I’ve been the only Black person,” Miller said. “So I know what it is to be in these spaces, to figure out how you take care of yourself, and how you move forward.” 

Miller’s speech focused on the words of Black woman trailblazers, including the poem “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou.

“You, my students, you are the ones that give us hope for the future. And as I rise, so do each and every last one of you. You rise. Never bow your heads… When I say I rise, we all rise,” Miller said.

She also quoted Shirley Chisholm, the first Black congresswoman in the U.S.

“Someone said, ‘If there’s not a seat at the table, take a folding chair’… To each and every last one of you, you are my heart, and you are my soul,” Miller said. “Because of you, Hamline – this world – is in a good place.”

The importance of community was a common thread in the words of organizers and speakers.

After the conclusion of the dinner, Omar reflected on the past month, saying, “I’m happy with what I accomplished, but now that I’ve done it once, I want to do even more next year. I want to emphasize Black healing and the importance of community relations.”