By Grace Beckner
Just over a year ago, Walden student leaders, Trevecca’s Black student association, dreamt of hosting a safe space for Black business owners to gather on campus.
This semester, Maya Smith, a sophomore social work major and events coordinator and secretary for Walden, was able to help make the dream a reality.
“We wanted to highlight the successes of Black people, so we chose to have it in Black History Month on purpose,” Smith said. “When people reflect on Black History Month, it’s usually on things associated with slavery or pain or suffering. This wasn’t like that. This was a time for people to celebrate.”
On Feb. 23, Walden hosted a Black Renaissance, an event that brought together over 50 Black owned businesses in the Boone Business building from 6-9 p.m.
The Walden leaders who planned the event include Howard Dodd, president of the organization, Benise Duhart, vice president, Cie Kelly, marketing and media coordinator, and Smith.
Smith said 63 students were recorded to have attended the event, but that number does not take into account faculty and staff, students who did not check in, or community members who came to show their support.
“The significance is just the presentation of community to this area,” said Terrence Schofield, associate provost of mission excellence and reconciliation. “It was just getting Trevecca in alignment with other people in the community.”
The first of its kind, Smith said the Walden team is already discussing what worked and what could be improved on from the initial event, and they hope to have another Black Renaissance next semester for students to look forward to.
“I would like to see this event bringing more Black students out. A goal of ours is to be able to reach these students,” Smith said. “It was just four of us that [planned the event], so we want to see more students of color be able to partake in something like this.”
Schofield said, to his knowledge, there has never been an event highlighting African Americans to this scale and magnitude.
“I mean, you’re talking about 50 businesses and entrepreneurs on campus. I mean, I thought I was at a fair,” said Schofield. “I think it’s historic.”
Smith’s favorite part about the Black Renaissance was getting lost at the event and observing the interactions between the business owners and the Trevecca community.
“My favorite part was just going around talking with each individual business, learning more about what it is they do. It’s like a time for them to shine,” said Smith. “I enjoyed watching our faculty that came to the event because they had such a good time and brought their families, and I just love how they were able to take part in our culture.”
Schofield, who said his role in helping the event come to fruition was akin to that of a “spiritual cowboy” pulling everyone together, thought the Walden students did a phenomenal job working creatively and collaboratively with other people and departments on campus.
“That was my role, just building those relationships by talking to people and hearing exciting stories,” said Schofield. “There was one lady there who was 72 years old. She used to be a ballet dancer for the Nashville opera. She had her own business, and she was there selling suits. Just learning better history, that’s what it’s all about.”
Smith has been hearing a lot of feedback from students about the vendors they liked and the diversity in the kinds of businesses Walden was able to attract to the event. She has also heard from the businesses themselves.
“I’m hearing the vendors say they had a great time,” said Smith. “They felt welcome at Trevecca.”
Smith said she would like an awareness and understanding of Black culture to grow on campus because of this event and others like it. She said the purpose of it was to bring people together to experience different people and their cultures and to represent them well.
“It’s time to kind of reflect because I think you go through the motions of planning something and then it’s like, ‘Oh, it is over with,’” Smith said. “Like, a time for me where I can just sit back and reflect on all of the positive things.”