Urbana embraces black culture with educational rally


Performer: Frito DJ: Forrest Bump Oct. 21, 2014

By Rachel Bass

The #BlackLivesMatter campaign is no stranger to the University. On Dec. 8, crowds of students gathered around the Alma Mater and embraced the worldwide mantra out of support for African-American lives following the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice.

The University’s campus community continues to make strides against racism and discrimination on campus. The Culture, a rally to raise race awareness, will be returning to The Canopy Club in Urbana on Sunday at 8 p.m. with a documentary screening of “Hitting Colors 2,” followed by an open mic night. For those arriving after 10 p.m. for the open mic, attendees must pay $3. 

The Culture was founded by Urbana native and  University alumna, Shasta Knox. The Daily Illini sat down with Knox to discuss how she came up with the idea for the event and why she believes it is so important that racial disputes are brought to the forefront, especially on college campuses.  

The Daily Illini: How did The Culture originate?

Shasta Knox: It started in October of 2014, so it’s fairly new. But it’s growing. … The Culture is something I came up with, and I used The Canopy Club to my advantage. … I feel like it’s the best music venue in town, and being from the area, I kind of took all the things from the places I’ve been and tried to come up with an idea that would work here. There are a lot of hip-hop open mics, but sometimes they’re boring and a lot of people don’t come back. I wanted to create something that was signature. 

DI: Are there any new additions to Sunday’s event from the last one?

SK: All of them are open mic, and it’s mostly about networking. This time around, we have live art and open mic, but we’re also going to open the floor to speakers as well. I’m hoping to get local political leaders, professors, community members and people from the GEO (Graduate Employees’ Organization) who have been rallying for rights. … Hip-hop and music are important, but #BlackLivesMatter is the theme. 

DI: Why is this event important for people of all backgrounds?

SK: I feel like a lot of people are really passionate about this topic, both the black community and allies and people who know the struggle. … I want to maintain the momentum of the movement because it’s very important, and there’s a lot of stuff that happens in this community that students aren’t aware of. … It’s a celebration and an opportunity for people to get on the same wave of thinking. It could be historical for Urbana-Champaign in building our community and becoming a strong force. … I hope people learn something: A greater sense of self-respect and power, and a community. I want to build a community. Hip-hop speaks something different to you, and to create a community through that and open up to the issues in order to create a movement, that’s what I want. It’s uncomfortable, and it’s supposed to be uncomfortable. But that’s how you get people thinking. 

African history is solely history; it’s not for anybody specific to learn. There is a lot to learn about it that I’ve learned through the film and doing my own research. It made me proud of who I am and where I come from, and I think anybody could learn something new and benefit from it. 

DI: What was it like being a black student on campus?

SK: Campus to me felt segregated automatically. When I immediately got to campus, there were already programs in place for African-American students, which is great. But when I got here I went to where I was comfortable, and those programs were operated through the Black House (Bruce D. Nesbitt African American Cultural Center). One Hundred Strong was an organization where I met a lot of my friends, and they’re all black. It was completely different than living in Urbana, a completely different tone. I was one of five people who got accepted of black students in my class, so I was ready for integration. Those programs are important, but they shouldn’t dictate the only place people feel comfortable being.

DI: Have you felt that your race has ever been a setback, or is it a force?

SK: The topic is fiery for a reason. We are still feeling the effects of white supremacy. Everything now is a result of racism. It’s not like we’re constantly faced with it, but it’s still encrypted in our society. It’s a distraction to constantly have to talk about it, but to not talk about it is to be defeated. … When you look at who’s affected, you realize racism still exists and that is a setback. There’s so much truth that has been hidden from us, and a lot of African-American history starts and ends with slavery. They teach African Americans that that’s how you got here, that’s where the history starts, that’s where it ends. There’s so much before that that isn’t accounted for. People should challenge themselves and their own beliefs and use it as a force to make change. 

DI: What is the most significant reason people should attend?

SK: Black lives are important, and they do matter. I think anyone who is ready to challenge themselves and who is ready to do some actual work, they should come. It’s more than a rally; it’ll hopefully point people in the right direction. Once everyone comes out, I think they’ll be haunted by what they experience. I’ve unlearned everything I previously learned, and I think people may find the same. White or black, people can really get something from it. Whether we like it or not, we’re a yin yang to each other. We both have something to give to each other, and it has to be equal. This will be a good way to get people to start looking at each other and themselves differently. 

Rachel can be reached at [email protected].