The Linehan Concert Hall was filled with excitement two Wednesdays ago, as students, faculty and friends gathered for the 37th Annual W.E.B. DuBois Distinguished Lecture. The event was hosted by the Department of Africana Studies, and featured author and activist Professor Dinaw Mengestu whose lecture was entitled “Linked Fates and Great Expectations: Revisiting Post-Colonial Africa & African-American Life through Diasporic Literature.”
Dr. Tyson King-Meadows, Chair of the Department of Africana Studies, made opening remarks, describing the event as “a wonderful night of celebration and reflection.” He went on and said, “from Black Lives Matter to the Baltimore Uprising…to student protests here…there is no better time to visit the promises of W.E.B. DuBois’s work.”
The UMBC Singers took the stage next with the help of conductor Janice Jackson, from the department of music. Paris Patras, a senior political science major and sociology minor, described the choir as “really brilliant actually. The songs were really representative of things going on, and it was uplifting to an otherwise somber context.”
After the presentation of the Second Generation Scholarships to three deserving students in the Africana Studies Department, the distinguished lecturer of the night was ready to take the stage. Professor Dinaw Mengestu told the story of his life growing up, “black in America,” as he chose to refer to himself. The Ethiopian-born author and activist discussed his failures and successes as a writer, and emphasized the importance of the humanities.
Mengestu shared rather explicit memories of instances of racism, which inspired and shaped his stories and him as a person. During a trip to the Congo, he witnessed rebels destroy villages and massacre civilians. He discussed the parallels between this literal destruction and the bullying and struggle his family experienced in America for their race.
“I’m definitely glad I came out tonight,” said Patras. “I came because it was about DuBois, who was one of the first African-American sociologists who discussed racism in society.” He also explained his excitement over the stories Mengestu shared. “I liked that it really incorporated the immigrant experience,” said Patras. “It’s not always well-represented on campus and needs to be talked about more.”
Patras wasn’t the only student who was pleasantly surprised by the evening. “It wasn’t what I was expecting actually,” said Sam Whittemore, a sophomore applied linguistics major. “I thought it’d be just a normal lecture, but then they had the whole performance. And the speech was really personal which I thought was interesting.” Whittemore said her favorite part of the lecture was the opening, when Mengestu analyzed some pieces by James Baldwin. “I like how he discussed how it applied today,” she said. “He tied all the stories together really well.”
Mengestu even stuck around to sign some lucky students’ books after the lecture, and answer any questions he might have missed. From singing, to reflecting, to hearing the stories of an award-winning author, it didn’t take an Africana Studies major to enjoy the night at the Annual DuBois Lecture.