African-American Homecoming emphasizes inclusivity in events

African-American Homecoming events at the University of Illinois have been a prominent part of campus life for many years. The events initially started as small step shows in the 1970s that were mainly enjoyed by black students. These have since grown into a series of events sponsored by the Illini Union Board, or IUB, which invites all students to experience these unique cultural activities.

Though each event contains ‘African-American’ in the titles, IUB stresses the importance of inclusivity for the programs they plan. Katie Cowley, IUB’s director of traditional programs, says that IUB actively distributes posters and information regarding the events to a diverse range of places on campus.

“Some IUB events are designed to represent and educate about certain cultures or ethnicities, but these events are always designed to be inclusive to the entire student body,” Cowley said. “We strive to ensure that as many students as possible are aware of IUB events and feel welcome attending.”

The African-American Homecoming Party

The African-American Party was the first event officially recognized and funded by the Illini Union Board in the 1980s. Though it started as a formal dance for the African-American community, it is now a party held in the Campus Recreation Center-East (CRCE) each year.

This homecoming party is a popular program that frequently sells out. This year’s event will showcase Chicago DJ Timbuktu, as well as University student DJ Matrix.

The African-American Pageant

During years of racial tension, the African-American students attending the University found themselves, at times, restricted from student organizations. In 1969, the University crowned Charlynn Chamberlain the first African-American Homecoming Queen; however, complaints soon followed.

“She was elected Miss U of I Homecoming, but then she was mistreated,” said Dr. James Anderson, professor of education and former graduate student at the University. “I remember all of us engaged in a protest because of the way in which she was treated.”

Such circumstances led to the creation of the African-American Homecoming Pageant, an event that crowns one black male and female student Mr. and Mrs. U of I. The event features a formal promenade as well as a talent and question-answer portion. Winners are selected by three judges and have the opportunity to participate in the official Homecoming Parade.

The African-American Fashion Show

One of the most popular events for students is the Fashion Show, which has taken place for seven years.

Each year the University holds auditions for student models that showcase the clothing lines of different local designers. The clothing and choreographed movements for the show correlate with the show’s overall theme, which is not released to the public or models until the dress rehearsals for the show. There are four scenes in the show that represent a different aspect of the theme.

“The one thing that I really enjoyed seeing the students do is the creativity with the themes,” said Natalie Davis, assistant dean of students and the adviser for the Black Greek Council. “Students were doing themes like ‘Kill Bill,’ and other movies. Over time we’ve also seen students incorporate scenes with Afro-centric fashions, which is something other students may not otherwise get to see.”

The African-American Step Show

Though the Step Show is the youngest of the IUB Homecoming programs, the tradition of stepping is deeply rooted in African-American history. Step-dancing is a militaristic style that involves synchronized, rhythmic clapping and foot movements. Step Shows were created and performed by black Greek organizations and have extended to other ethnicities today.

Shows at the University, once held in the ballrooms of the Illini Union, are now large productions that bring students from other universities and enough spectators to nearly fill Foellinger Auditorium. The event involves a step competition between teams from other universities — though each team represents a black Greek chapter that is currently on campus.

For more information, visit iuboard.illinois.edu.