The biting cold was no match for the warmth emanating from the Alumni Gym on Saturday evening as the Black Student Union’s annual Harlem Renaissance kicked off around 7:30 p.m. This year’s theme was “Night at the Apollo.” Students of all classes dressed in their best formal wear and lined up, tickets in hand, eagerly waiting to be allowed into the well-decorated space as jazz quartet melodies drifted from the main floor into the hallways. No longer was the Alumni Gym a cold and uninviting practice space for athletics. On that night, it was transformed into a fully realized and innovative tribute to the Apollo Theater. The atmosphere was a much-welcomed escape from the chill lurking outside the gymnasium doors.
My friends and I arrived around 7:15 p.m., and after a brief wait we were allowed onto the main floor in order to seat ourselves. Well-dressed tables dotted what would have been a practice basketball court, at which were seated even more attractive patrons of the evening’s affairs. A soft, red glow permeated the dimly-lit space. Paired with the warm, yellow accent lighting and the bright marquee spelling out “APOLLO” positioned above the stage, the ambiance of the event had been produced with an impressive amount of consideration to detail. A space for having photos taken was set up in the back of the room, where guests yet again patiently waited in line for the chance to tangibly capture the memories of The Harlem Renaissance 2013 with their friends. The buffet tables from which dinner would be served soon after the initiation of the night’s program sat adjacent.
We decided on a table in the middle. Although we faced away from the stage, we took full advantage of the opportunity to admire the scene from all angles. Everyone seemed excited to be there — perhaps it was the excuse to get ready for a genuinely formal event, if nothing else — and the energy amongst the students contributed to the warmth that everyone, no doubt, felt in abundance.
Many students were with family members, thanks to the overlap with Parents Weekend, including Shyloe Jones ’14. She brought her mother along, and both looked ravishing in their eveningwear. Jones, too, noticed the care with which the gymnasium had been transformed.
“I think they did a great job with the overall decor. The gym looked completely different. It’s a cool event for family weekend,” Jones said.
Judging by the amount of mothers, fathers and other relatives that I spotted, it seems as though it was a popular event choice indeed.
Around 7:30 p.m., the official welcome and introduction was given by the MC’s for the night, Lorraine Thomas ’15 and Jensen Bouzi ’14. The two had great chemistry and masterfully engaged the crowd every time they stepped behind the microphones. Andrew Lindsay ’16 spoke to the unprecedented late start to the evening, as the program was scheduled to officially begin around 7.
“The biggest scare of the night…was the fact that the lights didn’t shut off around 7:00 p.m. so we couldn’t start the event on time. We ended up starting a few minutes late,” Lindsay said.
Despite this, however, the show got on without anymore technical malfunctions and turned out to be a wonderful success, perhaps even unmatched in the event’s history.
“From what I’ve heard from seniors,” Lindsay commented, “It was the best Harlem Ren. yet.”
The performances of the event are undoubtedly what made The Harlem Renaissance memorable. After a beautiful rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by The Amherst College Gospel Choir, the sincere blessing of the food by Adrianna Turner ’14 and the serving of dinner, the schedule of performances began. The lineup included spoken word pieces, songs and poems. Lindsay, who read poetry for the crowd, said that “The performances were absolutely amazing. I was really moved by Alex Teyie’s poem.” Alex Teyie ’16 wrote and performed a spoken word piece and was second in the lineup. A wonderful cross-section of the talent here at Amherst was well represented at Night at the Apollo and did not disappoint. Members of the audience were more than ready to express their enthusiasm for each and every performance, whether they were somber or more light-hearted.
The general consensus seems to be that the BSU really outdid itself this year. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and I am looking forward to attending future events. I am excited that I’ve only just arrived at Amherst. The freshman class has three more years to enjoy the incredible creativity and hard work that the BSU will, undoubtedly, continue to embody in the years to come. Thank you for a memorable evening, Amherst College BSU!