The Black Excellence Exposition displayed performances of poetry, debate and public speaking from African American voices in the WKU Forensics team. The auditorium was full of people listening to their work on Wednesday, Feb. 8 at 7 p.m in the Fine Arts Center recital hall.
The Black Excellence Exposition showcased four speeches and one debate about African American history and experiences.
“A lot of times Blackness is discussed in a very myopic sense where it’s related to whiteness, but a lot of the pieces in the Black excellence showcase are just about the Black experience,” Tani Washington, a junior from Richmond, Virginia, said. “I think it’s a huge thing that we don’t have to talk about how our Blackness is affected by anything; we can just talk about our Blackness.”
Reginald Jefferson, a junior from New Orleans, performed a speech titled, “Voices from the Other Side” by Terrance McGhee.
He said the showcase is a place where he and others can talk about social issues plaguing the Black community while also being reminded of Black beauty.
“A lot of the time it can be really easy to develop this sense of insecurity when you’re a Black person going through whatever challenges may come,” Jefferson said. “And the Black excellence showcase is a reminder of your excellence, of your beauty, of your talent, of how far we’ve come, and how far we still have to go.”
Danielle Williams, a sophomore from Goodlettsville, Tennessee, performed a piece titled “The Cookout.” She said the showcase is inspirational, influential and a spiritual restoration for her.
“Coming in and hearing these struggles and testimonies helps uplift others around us,” she said.
Williams said the coaches have helped foster the participants’ voices and harness what it is they need to articulate.
“The team itself has also been inspiring, when I feel discouraged about tournaments and do everything they can to lift me up and give me critiques,” she said.
Andre Swai, a senior from Springfield, Missouri, said everything at the Black Excellence Showcase is in line with Black radical tradition in many ways and that it is valuable to see Black radical art on campus.
According to Medium, Black radical tradition “is a collection of cultural, intellectual, action-oriented labor aimed at disrupting social, political, economic and cultural norms originating in anticolonial and antislavery efforts.”
“It’s a good space to have Black people do Black shit, and we need more spaces for Black shit on campus,” Swai said. “It’s good to have Black representation, but the WKU campus has a long way to go in terms of being inclusive for Black bodies.”
The WKU Forensics team is a national award-winning team, and the most successful program in the history of WKU, according to the WKU Forensics website.
The WKU forensics team is a competitive speech and debate program that dates back to 1877, according to the WKU Forensics website. Washington, the main coordinator of the event, said that there are multiple events the team competes in, from informative and theatrical speeches to argumentative debate.
Washington said this success is due to the innovation the forensics team has brought to this activity.
Two coaches, Jeremy Frazer and Benjamin Robin, have improved the way events are run and speeches are written, she said.
“I think there would be no success of the WKU forensics team if it weren’t for the voices of Black and brown students. Black voices and Black people have been essential to this team,” Washington said. “I think it has really inspired younger people of color to want to do the same thing and has caused the team to grow a lot.”
Having more people of color on the team provides a broader spectrum for the things you’re talking about or advocating for, Jefferson said.
“That’s one of the biggest things when competing at the national level in forensics. What are you talking about? Is the message relevant? Is it powerful? Is it important? Is it unique?” Jefferson said. “And I think having more people of color on your team is only going to result in positive change.”
Swai said the national success of WKU’s forensics program is due to the amount of diversity they have compared to other schools.
“The fact is some of the most rhetorically powerful pieces are pieces that have to do with the history of slavery, the history of anti-Blackness,” Swai said.
Jefferson said it was thrilling to hear everybody’s pieces for the first time.
“Watching them perform and hearing their messages for the first time was really awesome. The audience had good reactions, the energy was really exciting, and it felt very informative,” Jefferson said.
Swai said the audience was receptive to everyone’s speeches and his debate.
“I’ve been on the team for four years and this was probably my favorite Black History Showcase that we’ve had so far,” Swai said.