By Tara Guaimano
“Africans are adaptable. We are strong, and we are very, very loyal,” said host senior Ebi Olodiama, opening her heart and mind wide in celebration of the annual event for African culture celebration, Mon Afrique.
Olodiama stood atop this stage in the grey gym on Saturday, April 22, confidently showcasing her faith in widening awareness of African culture to the Marist community.
The gala event required formal dress and was accompanied by African food, a fashion show, and musical selections showcasing the differences in culture within countries in Africa that Marist students call home.
“We wanted people to enter the gym and say, ‘This is what Africa is about,’” expressed senior Cornelius Krapah, head board member of Mon Afrique. “Our thing was to draw all people together and to educate everybody on campus.”
Mon Afrique, or “My Africa,” began as a senior capping project within the walls of a classroom, with about 20 spectators listening to learn about African culture. “It was just to educate people about Africa,” Krapah said.
The event eventually moved to the Cabaret and began having required formal wear—attracting over 150 people including a handful of speakers who had flown in from Ghana. “My junior year, we put a team together and decided to do it in the grey gym, and that is where the story began,” said Krapah.
The formal attire tradition aimed to utilize widespread African value in application to our identities as college students. “We wanted to bring out the best of people. As Africans, we are always trained by our parents to bring out the best of ourselves,” said Krapah. “When I saw people dressing up, it brought a good vibe and a good feel to it.”
These specific gifts from Africa extended further into the overall theme of the event, as Mon Afrique was subtitled with tagline “The Gift” this year and attracted about 500 people. “Initially one of the group members gave us the idea that we should do a wedding theme, where the main purpose is the gifts given,” said Krapah. “We all can relate to it, and people on the outside can also relate to it.”
“Africa would not exist without us, so we are the gift of Africa,” he continued. “You are a gift to Marist and you have to do something with your life on campus—inspire people to also do something.” For Krapah, Mon Afrique accentuated this greater purpose as both a Marist student and a face of pride for his home country.
Such a concept infiltrated their ideology as an executive board with a mission to promote culture on campus in a different, enigmatic nature. “It was to send a message of hope and a message of self-identity,” he continued. “For centuries, it’s a sad story, [and] for centuries we have been deprived of our resources and our identity, but we are coming back into who we are as a people,” explained Krapah. “This is to tell people that we are working hard to make Africa what it is today.”
“Mon Afrique was made to give people a voice on campus,” expressed Krapah. “Me, as a freshman, I didn’t like it here because I thought it was too cliquey—but I had a close circle, and didn’t open up myself. Doing this event, I really got to know people in a different aspect and bring in not being judgmental.”
He emphasized the vitality of openness between cultures and the benefits that giving to one another and to a community can exert. “When I open up myself and my path, I really get to know who people are—that is why ‘the gift’ is so important to us.”
Host Olodiama consistently expressed her intention of utilizing African culture awareness to further connect the Marist community through celebrating the hidden cultural treasures on campus. “With the help of Marist College, we will bring Africa back to this school,” she continued.
Mon Afrique facilitated a concrete mission to promote campus awareness and appreciation for the inner affairs of Marist’s African student community by readily extending their gratitude to the entire campus. “I don’t do things just to do things on campus; I do things because I feel, as a Marist student, that the purposes are not always clear of events—so people don’t come,” said Krapah.
The event attracted a dense amount of freshman students, as well as a great portion of African freshman students who will be joining the event’s e-board next year. “They can see what the campus is really about,” he said. “It opens your eyes to a different dimension of Africa.”
Krapah brought together this group of freshman and “taught them the ways of Mon Afrique,” including Sandra Akariza and Ornella Mihigo, who are both from Rwanda.
“We were able to clear the few stereotypes about African countries and how things are handled, and the food, I believe spoke for itself,” said Mihigo.
“People who came had, to some extent, some interest in a foreign culture and we need to come [up] with a way to attract more people who might not have those interests, but somehow make this event reach out to them,” Akariza continued.
Krapah holds great faith in the importance of events like Mon Afrique on campus and aims to encourage the student body to fully extend themselves at Marist with appreciation of oneself and of those surrounding. “You are not just a college student, you are a treasure on campus.”