“The purpose of Afro Fusion is to bring a space for African women and men to embrace their culture. Not just that, but to also bring our culture to Whittier College for more inclusion.” — Julie Ann Aryee, Creator and Captain of Afro-Fusion
Fourth-year Julie Ann Aryee is currently majoring in business, with a concentration in management and marketing. At the same time, she is minoring in Africana and Black Studies. Not only is she focused on her various studies, she is also the founder, creator, and current captain of Afro-Fusion, which is known primarily as a dance team on campus that is rooted in African Culture.
Aryee’s first experience with connecting dance to her cultural identity as an African woman with family roots in Ghana was in high school. “I was president of the [Black Student Union] at my high school, and we would have this multicultural night where clubs showcased dances from their culture. That is where I started doing African dance and took it more seriously,” she said. Aryee taught herself many of the dance movements embedded in African culture. It was because of this seriousness towards embracing her cultural roots that she birthed the Afro-Fusion Dance Team, to further embrace dance while also connecting with other African men and women to learn from one another and bring the African community together on campus.
Third-year Psychology major Micalah Keturah Harris first entered Afro-Fusion as a first-year and is now the second captain for the dance team. Harris’s first experience with dancing began at the age of six while attending both musical theater and art schools throughout her coming of age years. She had a primary concentration in theater, acting, and dance — specifically hip-hop and jazz — during these years of attending those institutions. She soon, however, decided to discontinue dancing for a few years as she attended school in St. Louis, Mo., where she was part of predominately white spaces and often feeling uncomfortable in her own skin. When Harris entered Whittier College, she began to connect with other Black students, who soon became her friends, and they all joined Afro-Fusion together. Individually, Harris joined because she felt more safe and comfortably vulnerable dancing with fellow Black students who were also seeking to embrace African culture. She began to deepen her connection again to the sounds of music, flows of dance, and with her friendships. “When I am dancing, I feel free. Yet, dancing is an emotion, so I can’t say I feel this and that, but I do feel visible,” she said. “I didn’t feel visible before but, after joining Afro-Fusion I feel seen.”
Both Aryee and Harris have experienced difficulties connecting with their cultural and racial identities. Both women originally felt disconnected from themselves, as they grew up facing discrimination and prejudices for being who they are. Aryee recalls feeling judged for having ancestral and family roots from Ghana. She expressed some of the generalized sayings that surrounded her: “One of the biggest things was people would downplay it. I mean, Africa in general [ . . . ] saying things like ‘it’s a zoo,’ ‘there [are] just animals,’ and ‘it’s a jungle.’” She emphasized that Ghana is much more than these assumptions; it holds great importance to her and her family. She was able to embrace African dance from her knowledge of her culture stemming from Ghana.
Meanwhile, Harris continued to express that she, overall, truly struggled to feel connected to not just herself, but to others in her previous schools. Being one of the few Black students in the school had an impact on her cultural identity: “I had to stop myself from trying to fit into a white standard and try to fit my own cultural standard — my own personal and individual standard.”
Although both women have experienced different scenarios in which they felt disconnected from their African culture, something is very important to note: both are now embracing their African culture and identities through dance, music, and the community they have and continue to build within Afro-Fusion. Afro-Fusion goes beyond just being a dance team; this space is built upon bringing together students who are seeking to connect to their African heritage. The team is also a vessel through which students can teach the Whittier College community the values of cultural diversity. Although Aryee will be graduating this year, Harris is ready to continue pursuing African culture through dance with Afro-Fusion as she enters her last year at the College.
As we are embracing Black History Month, both Ayree and Harris expressed the crucialness of celebrating black identities. Both agree that Black History Month is an opportunity for Black individuals to receive the recognition they deserve, and to be seen and heard. Aryee stated, “Black people have done so much and have not gotten credit for it. Or, people even go ahead and just steal the ideas and save them for themselves. [ . . . ] Black people just need the recognition. We don’t get anything for what we do at all.” Harris added, regarding ways she supports her community, “[ . . . ] giving back to my community, shopping Black and [making] sure I showcase those people on social media, [ . . . ] making sure there is visibility where we are seen.”
This is the ideal purpose of this article today: to ensure that Black creatives on campus are being recognized for their determination, creations, and the ways in which they are bringing their community together.
Featured Image: Emmanuel Jones / Quaker Campus