African American Culture committee plans Mardi Gras event for students

Kat Sampson

In a window-lined room on the second floor of the Student Activities Center there are two circles of chairs, one within the other. Six members of the African American Culture committee, a subcommittee of Campus Events + Entertainment, are laughing and eyeing each other, as they run around the smaller circle of chairs to an upbeat song from the Creole genre, Zydeco. It is the beginning of the group’s last meeting before its Mardi Gras-themed event this Tuesday on the East Mall, Masquerade in the Park. 

As the meeting begins, there is a lot of talk about grades and the inconsistency of Texas weather before the discussion naturally transitions to upcoming events, specifically the cultural mixers that freshmen get to plan.

“Something we want to keep in your heads and consider for your cultural mixture would be what food we want to serve, advertising ideas like the handbill and what booths you’ll have,” said Matthew Ealy, applied learning and development junior and committee chair. 

Largely focused on giving UT students the opportunity to develop, plan and present African and African American culture programs to the University, the committee plans a variety of events, such as Masquerade in the Park.

“The greatest thing about Campus Events + Entertainment is probably the wide array of events that we sponsor,” Ealy said. “Because we consist of nine committees, each committee has a different interest. This allows for the most diverse programming of events by any organization on campus.”

The committee, which meets every Wednesday in the SAC, is open to all UT students. While the meetings are loosely structured, they rely heavily on an open forum discussion. The committee’s Black History Month events are the topic of much discussion this week. The first was a viewing of the movie “42” on Feb. 4. Following the screening, the committee hosted a night of entertainment, What Started Here Changed Our World, on Feb. 16. The event focused on bringing multiple African American culture groups together to educate students on black history at UT. The last event of the month was the career expo, Black to Business. While each of these events was advertised, Ealy said he wishes there could have been greater campus involvement.

“The one difficulty that we have had in gaining interest is the assumption that Black to Business is only for African American students,” Ealy said. “This assumption is not true. This event [was] a career expo premised on the fact that every company and organization in attendance will have a focus on the betterment of minority populations or significantly interested in diversifying their staff.” 

In an effort to increase participation, the committee will hold Masquerade in the Park on the East Mall because of its high foot traffic and space for tents. The festival is free to attend and will offer students an opportunity to taste Creole cuisine, listen to Creole and Zydeco music and participate in Mardi Gras activities. Public relations junior Jacy Jones is in charge of advertising the event on multiple social media platforms but mainly by word of mouth. Jones is especially excited to promote this event because of her ties to Creole culture.

“My favorite event we host is Masquerade in the Park, simply because I am Creole,” Jones said. “Growing up with Zydeco music is something that I’m used to. I’m always hearing it. The food, the culture — that’s my niche.” 

The committee, along with each event that it hosts, works to promote inclusivity within the African American community and the UT community.  

“I want students to see the difference that our organization and many other organizations are making on campus and how it directly affects all of them,” External Communications Chair Gennavonah Wade said. “We are a committee to put on events that cater to every aspect of a student. From political, to inspirational, to gaining leadership and communication skills, to entertaining and just adding to the holistic character of a student.”