Ernest Confessionals: The Difference Between Black Penn & Makuu Penn

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Sankofa is an Akan word that means, “We must go back and reclaim our past so we can move forward; so we understand why and how we came to be who we are today.”

Here’s my attempt at doing such. Excuse my candidness in advance. 

As I reflect upon these four years at Penn, finding my place amongst a sea of black perception has been a challenge. Now graduating, I finally have come to understand what are the problems and divisions that shape the current state of the black population. What is this black community that everyone speaks of? Who is in it? Who leads it? And how can we push back?

Ok, for the next few paragraphs I am going to attempt to unravel a few things for you. Brace yourself.

First fact: if you personally identify with the African diaspora, you are a member of Black Penn. At least that is what the Census Bureau would indicate. Black Penn is everyone that attends Penn that identifies as black in any shape or form. Whether you are Caribbean or Nigerian, or in-between, you are apart. No measure of wealth or social respect makes you any less in or out of Black Penn. This is the overall collective. This is everyone.

Second fact: Blacks at Penn have tried to create definitions of what makes one in Black Penn or out. This is quite foolish. There are various levels of nuance in trying to create arbitrary ways of cultivating a group that already exists. It is subjective in scope and tedious in expectation. How do you do it? Who makes the rules?

And then enters Makuu Penn.

Makuu Penn, which serves as the official resource center for students of the African Diaspora (Black Penn) tries to foster their idea of a community. Through their collaborative efforts with UMOJA (the umbrella organization for all Penn certified black student groups) they have created an impression that idealistically looks good in thought, but bad in practice. What is the black community at Penn? Makuu attempts to create it, and the subgroups apart follow suit.

Those organizations that are apart of UMOJA (Black Student League, PASA, CASA, and other more known black groups) create a culture that attempts to attract students from the African diaspora. This is fine. But what happens when we go from having a collective as Black Penn to now having this defined community? People get left out.

What I have seen over the past four years is statements like this:

“(insert any black man or woman who is involved in an organization that isn’t under UMOJA) is not really apart of the black community?” 

“I hardly see her at any black events, they are not apart of the black community.”

Translation: Makuu Penn has now become the definition of the black community at Penn. And anyone that isn’t partaking in subgroups associated with the center is considered out of the community.

No, the accomplishments of such rejects mean anything to the said resource center that strives to facilitate those who are apart of Black Penn. Yes, only your contributions to said resource center defines your place as a black student on said campus.

This is problematic for several reasons:

First, it sets limits and definitions for those who identify as black to go by. So if I don’t join a black organization that is apart of UMOJA that means I offer nothing to the black community? Or if the black community is defined by who participates with Makuu and said organizations affiliated, only then will I be accounted for in this community?

Second, for those who actually considered themselves as Penn students overall, where do they fit in the larger bubble? Are they less black now that a pecking order has been initiated? And do they deserve to be looked down because they choose to incorporate other experiences outside of the one defined for them as a black student the moment they stepped foot here?

This is the part of the essay where I get very frank (if I have not been so already). 

Given my four years at Penn, if you are not a black athlete, black Greek fraternity/sorority member, or apart of any organizations that are under UMOJA…the conclusion has been you are not apart of the black community.

And that is pretty fucked up.

It is messed up because for guys like me who have been in urban environments all my life and came to Penn to have experiences that are more diverse and explorative, my blackness is being questioned by privileged blacks that have spent most of their life in all white prep schools. Yes, because the kid from the inner city school that wants to sit with the white, Asian, and anybody else outside of Makuu Penn for a couple of hours, I am given the side eye and exclusion because some people are trying to cultivate a false sense of community within the campus. 

Want to find out where you fit in? Go read Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. But what you will not do is attempt to define my blackness on some metric system that helps you feel you can obtain it more than I can naturally exert it.

In conclusion, matters like this boil down to privilege, equity, and access. When you have money and power, you can create the rules. For rich, preppy, black kids who feel they have no sense of black identity, they can come to Makuu and ultimately feel they can create them by signing up for every club and organization under UMOJA. They then feel they can all of a sudden just through a scroll down a listserve invite themselves to festivities that will put them in the circle of what makes them “black.” Because unfortunately being apart of Black Penn was not too exclusive enough, being apart of Makuu Penn feels like VIP.

As a black guy who has grown up on the Southside of Chicago, the Southwest Side of Houston and now residing in West Philadelphia here at Penn, I have had my fair share of black interaction and I understand and appreciate my identity. No membership in any club or no tally of what I choose to attend will ever define my blackness or care of it either. For Quakers who are currently here and will eventually come, please know this and break the cycle.

No resource center or umbrella organization should bracket what makes us apart. Just by walking on this predominately white campus alone should be enough to define how committed you are to uplifting the community.

The community of us collectively, not socially.

Ernest Confessionals is a series of essays that Ernest Owens want all of Penn to know now that he is a graduate.

These women! I can’t believe it’s been four years already. These were my scholars y’all!!! To say I feel (pseudo-) old is an understatement. I am beyond proud and privileged to say that I know them… and hopefully somewhat inspired their desire to attend this prestigious springboard of an institution. I look forward to all the great things these women will DEFINITELY accomplish in life #100HappyDays #Day69 #MakuuSeniorCelebration #Makuu #UPenn #PennGrad #MulticulturalScholarsProgram (at Wynn Commons)

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When: Spring 2003

Where: Philadelphia

The Hair: I absolutely loved these braids, mainly because it was the perfect color blend and it was a excellent silky smooth weight! love, Love, LOVED IT!  I bought the hair on 52nd Street at my favorite hair store & kept the packaging for a reallllly long time so I could purchase it again. At the time i was growing my hair out from being cut & colored & damaged. Happens to the best of us.

Context: Was at Penn, at the Senior Farewell dinner for Black students. Makuu gave us all kinte cloth drapes to wear on graduation day. I wore my DST one I got after I crossed.

Fun Fact: I still have that skirt, but haven’t worn it in fo evahs! I should go try it on to see if it fits!

Black Frats 101: A Discussion on the Relevance of Black Fraternities

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Join the Men of the Mighty, Malicious Mu Chapter of Omega Psi Phi in tandem with the men of Alpha Phi Alpha, Phi Beta Sigma, and Kappa Alpha Psi as they discuss the relevance of fraternities in the 21st century.

Light refreshments will be served.

September 28th, 2011 @ 7:00 pm, Steinberg Hall-Dietrich Hall Rm 109

Penn's UMOJA Board Tackles "Django: Unchained"

Last night the UMOJA Board, the panel of student leaders for Penn’s African diaspora coalition, hosted a critical discussion surrounding the film Django: Unchained. The film, which follows an ex-slave turned bounty hunter on his quest to rescue his wife, has been under scrutiny for its use of profane racial slurs and graphic violence.

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Nothing was off limits for this group conversation, which covered topics such as the evils of slavery, modern day racism, and society’s current outlook on this period of American history. Looking at the film in the supportive environment of Penn UMOJA proved helpful and interesting for many students.

Participants felt free to express their own reactions to the film. For example, a few students said that they felt that seeing the movie represented a conscious step in recognizing their own history as African-Americans. Other students chose to draw connections to present day, commenting that the movie inspired them to discuss modern racial issues with their peers in other ethnic groups.

To join in on the discussion and see what the buzz is all about, check out the movie this weekend, currently playing at the Rave Theater on 40th and Walnut.

Mhhhh Jamani, hapa ndio we had miezi 6 ya lovey dovey me and My King Crazy Gk!. yaan we’ve been together kwa siri mno. too bad hii sura yangu siku hizi watu wanaijua..lol
kweli Mapenzi ni kikohozi kukificha haukiwezi..
yaan nilivyokuwa najificha gosh dat was crazy ..aww the memories with My Love .. aww dat was sea clif ryt’ .. lord , baby nae aanze tembea na ma camera maana he had all the attention lol. yaan sema basi tu mwenyewe hataki makuu i guess.. so today that tumetimiza mwaka na mwezi1 …celebrating you and i , celebrating US. just wanna say this.. ikno amma troublesome sometimes maybe all the tym but thanks for loving me unconditionally My baby.. ikno ts really hard loving me wit my mood swings and my big ego like the one kanye has lol maana mbondei mie nina Ego kubwa but you always there maskin wanakwambia mengi tena hahaa wengine si nawajua kabisa?! but yaan wala husikilizi kazi yako ni kunipenda tuuu… mengine ya ukweli mengine ya uwongo but My bae yaan you on of the kind .. catching me when i fall , love my flaws and all and i must admit am the luckiest girl on earth.. ikno i said nisingekupost just to Protect you from mediocre but its our Annive’sary ayt?! i don’t even know why you love me ’ maana you the coolest, the sweetest, so kind .. mcha mungu mwenyewe msomi dah yaan whenever am around you i must confess that am at peace stress free.. kwanza stress for who for what… yaan na utukutu wangu but you My Love.. kazi yako ni kunipenda tu in a very Positive way…so today i finally find , the courage deep inside.. i hope this finds the way in yo heart… uwe unanisamehe tu maana haya mengine ya dunia but Babes .. i loved you toka mara ya kwanza lay my eyes on you and i love you this minute that am posting you to tell you how much am in love with you and i will love you forever and for always…i love you like crazy till the end of time yaan i have my reasons and watu hawajui tu but you are so down to earth and .. as tony yo lil bro said Diva he will be the Perfect husband to you i agree. you the Perfect and the doopest takenbyme😘
sending you mill n trill kisses My baby baby. let em Angels guide you sweetie. nakupenda mwenyewe Gk wangu ❤️💋💯😘

CERN, makao makuu ya shirika la utafiti wa nyuklia la bara la Ulaya karibu na Geneva nchini Uswisi, Kiongozi wa Kanda ya Afrika ya Kusini ya Tume ya Dunia Kamishna Profesa Justin Mafuru wa Tanzania alipokuwa akifanya kazi, katika jitihada za kujibu maswali mazito ya mwanzo wa ulimwengu wetu kwa kutengeneza mazingira ya mwanzo kabisa ya mlipuko wa ‘Big Bang’.

Enock Maregesi

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