|Jamaican 13-year-old singer-songwriter Teshae Star / Courtesy of Teshae Star|
By Chantal Terblanche
"Black history is not just pain and suffering. It is also full of joy and triumph."
This is what EJ Asare and other organizers at Black Lives Matter Korea (BLMK) are hoping to impart with the 2nd annual Black Excellence Festival in honor of Black History Month.
The event, organized by BLMK's organizing committee consisting of five American women, will be held virtually through Zoom and BLMK's YouTube channel, Feb. 13, 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
They will be showcasing singers, poets, educational content, an interactive trivia game and a dance-off.
This is the 2nd year of this online festival, following last year's highly successful debut. This year, the event is backed by sponsorship from several Black-owned businesses. The U.S. Embassy in Seoul submitted a video of appreciation for Black historical and contemporary figures. It also has the support and participation of BLM Tokyo.
The organizers told The Korea Times that they organized the event this year to show the roots of Black and African history and culture. "We wish to share and educate the community about our rich history and the great achievements, big and small, that our community continues to make in this world," they said.
The story of Black History Month begins in 1915, half a century after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in the United States.
To officially commemorate and bring national attention to Black life and achievement, the Harvard-trained historian Carter G. Woodson and the prominent minister Jesse E. Moorland founded what is known today as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). The ASALH organization created Black History Week to take place in February 1926, to coincide with the birthdays of abolitionist Frederick Douglas (Feb. 12) and President Abraham Lincoln (Feb. 14).
Fifty years later, President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month in 1976, calling upon the public to "seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history."
Today, Black History Month is a time to honor the contributions and legacies of African Americans across U.S. history and society ― from activists and civil rights pioneers such as Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Rosa Parks to leaders in industry, politics, science, culture and more.
There is a special theme every year for Black History Month. The theme for 2022 focuses on the importance of Black Health and Wellness. As the ASALH website states, "This theme acknowledges the legacy of not only Black scholars and medical practitioners in Western medicine, but also other ways of knowing (e.g., birth workers, doulas, midwives, naturopaths, herbalists, etc.) throughout the African Diaspora. The 2022 theme considers activities, rituals and initiatives that Black communities have done to be well."
The virtual festival will feature Black artists not just in Korea, but also Japan and Jamaica. The quiz event will be hosted by Terri of BLM Korea and Jaylon Carter of BLM Tokyo, and the overall event will be hosted by Paige Miller, an English teacher and YouTuber who runs the YouTube channel Seoulful Paige.
|Timid / Courtesy of Timid|
Timid, the chairperson for BLM Tokyo, will deliver a spoken-word performance. He is "an emcee's emcee, with intelligent, thought-provoking lyrics dropped over tight production carrying influences from jazz, to soul and funk, to classical orchestra," according to his website.
|DJ Pinnacle spins vinyl. / Courtesy of Pinnacle|
DJing will be provided by DJ Pinnacle, who owns and operates Hustle in Itaewon and Lit Lounge in Gangnam.
|Lizz Kalo / Courtesy of Hillel Kim|
Among the performers will be Elizabeth Kapenda, also known by her stage name Lizz Kalo, a South African neo-soul and R&B singer-songwriter residing in Gwangju. Her music is inspired mainly by current affairs, her love life and those around her. She is a versatile artist, and her music career started in an unlikely way: from being a sportswoman to a singer.
|Author Justin Pierre Sinegal / Courtesy of Justin Pierre Sinegal|
Justin Pierre Sinegal, a self-published children's author living in Korea, will be showcasing his spoken word talents. He published his first children's book earlier this year, titled "Dame and Donna: Monster Mama."
Jamaica's rising talent Teshae Vernica Silvera, aka Teshae Star, will also be performing. Best known for her collaboration with Romaine Virgo's motivational song "Dutty Man," the 13-year-old has captured the hearts of many reggae music lovers at such a young age.
The lineup of performers will also be joined by two African American women living in Japan.
|Singer-songwriter J'nique Nicole / Courtesy of J'nique Nicole|
Singer-songwriter J'Nique Nicole is widely known for her songwriting and vocal contributions to the action RPG video game "NieR:Automata" from Square Enix. She has also gained notoriety as the backing vocalist for two prominent Japanese R&B artists, Kubota Toshinobu and Ai.
Vocalist/lyricist/writer Afrodyty from Atlanta, Georgia, currently works as a freelance artist with Funtime Productions in Tokyo.
|Afrodyty / Courtesy of Afrodyty|
When organizers Asare, Terri and Jacinta, were asked why people should join the event, they answered, "Learning about the history and culture of the people around you builds empathy and respect. In a world that is becoming interconnected on almost every level, taking time to recognize the value that others have brought and continue to bring to the world is extremely important. Appreciation of diversity is an integral part of a global society. When we take time to listen and learn about our neighbors, we gain new perspectives that help us see the light in each and every one of us."
As Asare and Terri told us, "The beauty of Black culture is that our excitement about life cannot be extinguished. We have taken our pain and turned it into the most beautiful art, books, music, images, dances, poetry, you name it. Black Excellence is a showcase of our vibrant and necessary existence in this world."
The event is sponsored by BLM South Korea, BLM Tokyo, the U.S. Embassy, the Seoul Council on Diversity and Inclusion, EJ Asare, Hustle, Lit Lounge, Afro Fever Club and Melanin Poppin Gear.
Attendance is free and everyone is welcome. Register on Eventbrite, or visit linktr.ee/BLMK for a list of relevant links, and follow BLMK on Instagram @blacklivesmatter_korea.
Chantal Terblanche, from South Africa, lives here with her dog, Samsung. She runs the blog ClumsyinKorea.com and the Korea Events group on Facebook.