The Levin Ballroom got lit on Saturday, Feb. 10, as the Brandeis Black Student Organization held its first ever “Shades of Blackness” event. 

February is Black History Month, which celebrates the history of people involved with the African Diaspora. Prior to “Shades of Blackness,” BBSO held multiple events geared toward Black culture, including a screening of  the movie “School Daze.” The festivities will not end anytime soon. BBSO plans to hold a screening of the Academy Award winning film, “Moonlight,” and will partner with Brandeis’ Latinx Student Organization to hold a meeting for Black and Latinx students.

“Shades of Blackness” kicked off at 6 p.m. with a monologue from Shaquan McDowell ’18. McDowell told the audience that many people questioned his decision to major in history because of the lack of Black narratives in most history courses. However, McDowell explained, there are a plethora of stories involving African-Americans — starting in 1619, when the first slave from Africa was brought to America, and continuing through the present in which Black people are continuing to work hard and achieve great success despite living in a country that often treats them with hostility.

After McDowell’s performance, hosts Cyril Ojilere ’21 and Curtis Beatty ’21 introduced themselves to the audience and explained that the purpose of the event was to celebrate Black excellence. Then, Brandeis’ Platinum step team took the stage and stepped to Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble” while declaring that they “came to slay.”


ANDREW BAXTER/the Justice

SYNCHRONIZED SKIRTS: LatinXtreme, a Latinx dance group, performed “Baile De Palos” clad in white paint and flowing skirts.


The next act to take the stage was an original poetry reading by Herlyne Das ’18, a Haitian-American student. Das wrote her poem in response to President Donald Trump’s comment last month, degrading the country of Haiti. She highlighted the strength of Haitian people and mentioned multiple students of Haitian descent at Brandeis who are triple majors and are on full merit scholarship, proving Trump’s comments invalid.

Voices of Soul, an a cappella group that sings rhythm and blues music, took the stage and performed “No Other Love” by John Legend and Estelle and “No Scrub” by TLC.  After them, the Women of Color Alliance, a group at Brandeis that unites women from different ethnic backgrounds, rocked the stage with a fashion show in which students modeled the styles of famous Black people like Lauryn Hill, Yara Shahidi and Serena Williams as popular songs by Black female artists played in the background . 

After an intermission, Afro Diamond, an African dance group composed of elementary school students led by University of Massachusetts Dartmouth student Bridget Kamanzi, performed and left the whole room speechless. 

Unlike most shows, where some performances are a hit and others are dull, every act and performer in “Shades of Blackness” kept the audience captivated and received thunderous applause. 

Kwesi Jones ’21 was no exception to this: everyone was awestruck when he recited the 1936 Langston Hughes poem “Let America be America again.”  Jones read this poem in response to the popular phrase coined by Trump, “Make America Great Again.”

After Jones, LatinXtreme, a Latinx dance group, performed “Baile De Palos.” In addition to being talented, the dancers also looked stylish. The men were shirtless, wearing only black pants and body paint, while the women were draped in billowing white dresses.

The next performance was a monologue from Ntozake Shange’s play “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow is Enuf” delivered by LaShawn Simmons ’18. The monologue was about a young girl living in the 1950s who tries to run away to Haiti so she can be with legendary revolutionary Toussaint Louverture. Simmons did a great job portraying each character, and there There were several moments during which the audience erupted with laughter.

The final act of the evening was a performance by the dance team TOXIC. The ladies looked fierce as they danced to Beyoncé in matching glittery silver unitards. They were definitely in formation!

At the end, BBSO’s e-board thanked everyone for coming and invited the audience to stay for the reception, where they provided food and refreshments. Overall, the event was a hit, and both the performers and the audience had an amazing time.


—Editor’s note: Andrew Baxter ’21, a Justice editor, performed in “Shades of Blackness.”