African-American programs to culture entire community

By Meghan O'Kelly

African-American Homecoming continues this year as one of the Illini Union Board’s signature events. The week’s events capture the theme “Searching the Soul of Illinois.”

Greg Wilson, graduate student, is the corresponding chair of African-American Homecoming and has worked on the event for six years.

“The purpose is to promote the uniqueness of African-American culture at the University of Illinois,” Wilson said. “We also recognize a fundamental obligation to ensure that such promotion is seen by people who aren’t African American.”

Wilson said he has seen changes in African-American Homecoming throughout the years.

“We’ve gotten more innovative,” he said. “We recognize more than ever that we have a duty to reach out to different parts of the University community.”

The annual African-American Homecoming Pageant will see a significant change this year. The event, which will be held Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the Courtyard Café of the Illini Union, will no longer be crowning a king and queen. Instead, the winners will boast the titles “Mr. and Miss U of I.”

Wilson said the intention of the name change was to maintain the integrity of the University’s Homecoming Court. He said in the past, black students were not given an equal opportunity to be king or queen on Homecoming Court, but that has changed in recent years.

The pageant’s contestants were chosen based on an application process, which included interviews that become a part of the pageant score. A panel of judges will score the contestants on categories including personal introduction, formal wear, casual wear and their answer to a question chosen at random. Winners earn the Mr. or Miss U of I title, merchandise provided by the Illini Union Board and tickets to other Homecoming Week events.

Paula Urtubey-Fish, African-American Homecoming program adviser, said Friday night’s fashion show at Foellinger Auditorium is “more than a typical runway show.”

“The fashion show is not just a fashion show to parade different clothes,” she said. “It has a theme. It has a story.”

Phillip Lambert, senior in Communications, is the fashion show chair. He thinks African-American Homecoming is important in improving campus race relations.

“It’s a little niche for all students to experience another culture and a way for students to enrich themselves,” he said. “It’s an integral part of Homecoming.”

The week’s events wrap up Saturday evening with a dance party at CRCE. The dance party typically sells out, Urtubey-Fish said.

Organizers expressed a theme of inclusiveness surrounding African-American Homecoming, and Wilson acknowledged that the event itself might appear like African-American students are segregating themselves.

“We are not to regard these events as separate events,” Wilson said. “We are to regard these events as a part of the broader Homecoming festivities.”

Urtubey-Fish agreed, and said these events provide events for students beyond the parade, pep rally and football game.

“I don’t think there’s any other events during like them during Homecoming,” she said. “We provide a variety of events that students can attend besides what is already happening on campus.”