Bixby Lecture Hall was filled to capacity for Columbia College’s inaugural “A Night of Unity” talent showcase Feb. 22.

Columbia College student Sarah Richardson performs a spoken-word presentation at the “A Night of Unity” talent showcase.
(Photo by Camille Mahs)

Director of New Student Programs Kim Coke took the packed auditorium as an encouraging sign of the importance supporting diversity holds for a sizable segment of the Columbia College community.

“I’ve been at Columbia College 17 years. Tonight is the pinnacle of my career,” Coke said. “It is incredible to see the amount of support we have on our campus. It fills me with pride that I can say that I’m part of the Columbia College community.”

“A Night of Unity” served as a way to celebrate the uniqueness and accepting nature that permeates Columbia College. The Student Affairs office’s Diversity Action Team put out a call all over main campus for performers to highlight the kindness and care that exist within the college community.

In the end, 16 acts including more than 60 Columbia College students signed up to be heard, sharing their talent in everything from song and dance, to spoken word presentations, to performance art, to animation.

“How do we meet the students where they are and still be able to infuse an educational, intentional experience for students?” Coke said. “There’s a lot of creativity on campus. Arts are a great way to convey the message.”

Throughout the event, which was co-sponsored by the college’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee, videos reinforced the themes of acceptance and love, culminating in a video produced by the Diversity Action Team and the video production team from the Marketing department in which Columbia College students and staff shared their appreciation of the diversity on campus.

The Jane Froman Singers started out the night with a rendition of “Let My Love Be Heard,” and a cappella versions of The Black Eyed Peas’ “Where is the Love?” and The Turtles’ “Happy Together” followed later in the program.

Bixby also served as a place where students could give voice to some of the racial tensions that still haunt society. Ivana Easley read an original poem called “What Are You?” about her experience growing up as a mixed-race woman, and Sarah Richardson performed a piece, originally by Tolu Obiwole and Ashia Ajani, called “Black College,” about being an African-American student going to school at a mostly white institution.

“There are questions that I’m always asking as a result,” Richardson said during the performance. “Am I the space left over? Your diversity quota? A box checked ‘yes’ for ‘ethnic?’ Did you accept me, hire me, kiss me for my skin or for who I am? Am I enough? Am I what you expected? Am I qualified? Or just black?”

Coke shared her own story about trying to help African-American friends avoid the anger and hate speech flowing from protestors when racial discord broke out at her high school during the desegregation movement in St. Louis during the 1980s.

“All across campus, we’ve heard the conversations that are unfolding: in living rooms, residence halls, classrooms, and in small spaces that feel safe enough to house those kinds of conversations,” Coke said. “This is an opportunity to give voice to these more intimate moments as we question our humanity.”

At a reception following the event, attendees were encouraged to sign their name to a pledge that they would “demonstrate empathy when listening to others,” “look inward in order to examine our actions and reactions” and “see both the diversity and unity in humanity.”

The hope is that Columbia College students, in the words of a spoken-word performance that student Kate McHughs set to animation, are part of the “generation screaming and fighting for unity and peace, and we will win. Because love always wins.”

Check out a photo gallery of the event below, from student photographer Camille Mahs.