Last weekend, Colgate played host to a plethora of speakers and performers in celebration of the Harlem Renaissance Center’s 25th anniversary. The Harlem Renaissance Center (HRC) is probably one of the better known and more controversial living/learning communities on campus and possesses a unique history and personality.
The HRC was originally created in response to a strong desire by the student population for a housing option tailored specifically towards students of color. Today, the goal of the HRC is to create an active, aware and close-knit community for any student who may be interested. Every year, students in the HRC describe their experience as incredibly personally formative.
“Not only have I made the best friends, but [the HRC] was like my family,” current HRC resident sophomore Gretchen Polinski, said. “My great experience made me want to live here again, where incoming freshman have become added family members.”
Students of all class years are allowed to live in the HRC, resulting in a network of mentors and friends that provide a kind of formal and informal support most other housing options lack.
Throughout the year, the students in the HRC plan activities, attend lectures and organize inter-dorm discussions on topics of race, politics and social activism. One of the best examples of the initiative demonstrated by the students in the HRC was last weekend’s anniversary celebration. The anniversary events ran from Friday afternoon through Sunday night.
On Friday, one of the founders of the HRC, Kirk McDaniel ’85, returned to campus to have dinner with current HRC students and discuss the program’s progress, current success and future initiatives. That night, senior Henoch Derbew’s play “The Enemy” was performed for a full audience at the Edge Cafe. “The Enemy” discussed the effects of the Cold War on third world Ethiopia and was produced by the African Student Union and Urban Theater.
On Saturday, Antonio Delgado ’99 returned to campus to perform and field students’ questions. Delgado is a hip-hop artist and co-founder of STATiK Entertainment. He received a Rhodes scholarship at Colgate, and went on to study politics and law at Oxford and Harvard Universities. His music is very politically and socially conscious and encourages people of color to display initiative in their lives and attempt to make a difference.
The HRC anniversary celebration concluded on Sunday with a talk by Black Entertainment Television’s Cousin Jeff Johnson. His talk was entitled “Unclaimed Legacy: Who Will Lead the Next Social Movement?” and it discussed the gap between the intense activity of the civil rights movement, and the activism occurring today.
Not only did the HRC’s anniversary celebration aim to educate the rest of the Colgate campus about the center’s history and purpose, but it was also an important experience for the HRC residents themselves.
Residential Education Coordinator Piko Ewoodzie noted that the goal of many recent HRC activities is to “help the students in the HRC have a better understanding of the HRC’s purpose so that we can eventually reach out to the rest of the community.”
Ewoodzie is not alone in his perception of the increasing prevalence of a campus-wide debate over whether the community is truly necessary or appropriate today.
Many people on campus argue that, because of constantly improving racial relations in the United States, a living option specifically for people of color is no longer necessary and may in fact be counteractive.
The argument for the center, however, notes that not only is the HRC available to all students, but it is also incredibly helpful in bringing together students of similar interests in a way that allows them to find their niche and create a network of friendship and support more quickly and easily than they might have otherwise.