Shades of Black, a cultural event hosted by the University of Idaho Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) and the Black Student Union, returned to campus Saturday for its 14th season.
Kwapi Vengesayi, creator of the show, said Shades of Black explores and celebrates the different textures and dimensions of the multicultural experience through the performing arts.
Vengesayi, who grew up in Zimbabwe, Africa, came to UI as an international student to receive a degree in architecture. When he was a sophomore he had an idea for the event in 2003 and presented it for the first time in 2004.
“I was very involved with the multicultural community at UI, and because I had a good relationship with Washington State University, I realized that there were lots of vibrant African-American student organizations on both campuses, but we never had an event that brought people together as individuals of African descent,” Vengesayi said.
He said he wanted the event to bring all the different cultures and energies from these organizations together and to give the communities of the Palouse a new type of cultural showcase — one that was entertaining and would also inform the audience about the issues going on in the black community and nationwide.
“You don’t have to be black to be a part of Shades of Black. Although Shades still has its roots in the black experience, it’s now more than that,” Vengesayi said. “I always tell people that you don’t have to be black to have a black experience.”
Vengesayi said Shades of Black has grown from a small presentation of local black culture at UI to a showcase of black culture and talent from around the entire Pacific Northwest region.
Vengesayi said he hosted auditions at UI, WSU and Eastern Washington University. However, students from across the region, including Oregon and Western Washington, auditioned to be a part of the show as well.
“Shades of Black is a celebration of a culture, not a race — showcasing diversity is one of our objectives and this is done by ensuring that each show has a universal message, and a diverse cast of participants, from performers to organizers,” Vengesayi said.
Vengesayi said each year the performance is assigned a new theme and this year’s theme was “chronicles,” meaning that it focused on illuminating the present by chronicling the past and celebrating the icons that have impacted the world.
Leathia Botello, coordinator for the OMA, said the show included 13 different acts that ranged from spoken pieces to dance.
Botello said Shades of Black is a great opportunity for students and community members to think about cultural and racial issues in a different way and that the event is one of the most well-attended events on campus that the OMA sponsors.
“For some, Shades of Black gives them a sense of place, a sense of acceptance, a sense of acknowledgement. For others, it gives them an experience outside of their own comfort zone,” Vengesayi said.
Olivia Heersink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @heersinkolivia