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Painting symbols of the past

Updated: Mar 2, 2020

The Umoja scholarship program connects students with history by painting ancient Adinkra symbols for Black History Month.

By Gene Wickham, Staff Writer

Photo by Gene Wickham/The Valley Star

With music from Drake and Swae Lee filling the Art Department courtyard, dozens of students came together to participate in Valley College’s Black History Month celebration.

The first event of the year — organized by Elliott Coney, the counselor for the Black Scholars program, and Jeannine Nagy, the Art Gallery director — was sponsored by the Umoja (Swahili for unity) scholarship program. There are four Umoja programs in the LACCD district and approximately 72 across the state. Also welcoming the students were Sherri Rodriguez, associate dean of special programs, and Alex Ojeda, Guardian Scholars coordinator.

“Basically the event is coordinated by Umoja as well as our student services and our equity initiative,” Coney said. “This is a program that’s catered to serving the African-American students on our campus.”

Nagy saw the event as an opportunity to provide the event with a venue and a great way to introduce the students to art.

“We want people to [know] the gallery is there for them and they are part of what we do here,” Nagy said.

The students were each given a canvas, several colors of acrylic paint and printouts of various “Adinkra” symbols, which were provided for the students as reference. Encouragement, commitment, strength and friendship are just a few of the ideas Adinkra images illustrate.

“Adinkra symbols go back to the Shanti and Ghanaian people,” Coney explained. “They represent meanings and aphorisms about ideas and concepts for students because [Shanti and Ghanaian] couldn’t fully read, so [they] used images to create meanings.”

Some students attending were curious about the event. Law Enforcement student George Wall came after a family member told him about it.

“It’s pretty cool,” Wall said. “If I have time, I’ll be there,” he responded.

Coney stressed the creative and social importance of the gathering. “It’s called ‘Trap and Paint’ but basically it’s a Paint and Sip [event],” Coney said. “We’re basically having music, light food and refreshment, and we’re going to be painting a cultural piece of Adinkra symbols that people are going to resonate with.”

At the end of the “Trap and Paint,” students were given the opportunity to donate their work to the Umoja campus center office. The mosaic pieces will be on display in Campus Center 102.

Black History Month events will continue with a comedy show on Thursday, Feb. 27, at 1:30 p.m. in the Theater Arts Building Blackbox Theater. It will be hosted by comedian Jackson McQueen and other comics featured on BET, VH1, Comedy Central and the Laugh Factory. On Friday, Feb. 28, the celebration concludes with a visit to California State Northridge’s Harambee Festival and Conference.

The festival will celebrate the cultural legacy of African-Americans and the pursuit of higher education. For more information on remaining events contact Umoja at the Black Scholars Office at 818.947.2600 ext. 4874.

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