The Afrikan Heritage House (A-House) has a rich history, and its popular Soul Sessions are an important piece of that history.
Before I tell you about this rich tradition, I have to explain what the Afrikan Heritage House is and what it means to the people here. A-House is one of the Program Houses here in Oberlin, and it primarily serves black-identifying individuals on campus.
This is especially important, because it is one of the only spaces on campus where black students can relax and be themselves.
For example, I can wear a durag on my head while I’m walking in the dorm without getting any dirty looks. I can speak with a certain type of slang that I can’t use outside of this space without (again) getting any dirty looks. It’s already hard enough to feel “at home” in Oberlin. It is even more isolating for people of color in particular since their population is much lower in proportion to their white counterparts. That’s why spaces like A-House and the MRC (Multicultural Resource Center... That place is wonderful, by the way) exist. It can be difficult being a black student at an elite institution like Oberlin.
I describe being a black student here like this: Imagine having a microscope on you all the time, especially in the classes where you are the only black person in them.
As diverse as Oberlin is, it can still feel isolating as a black student here at times. In my case, I’m an English major. More often times than not, I am one of the only black people in the class because there aren’t that many black English majors here. I chose the major knowing that I would experience this type of isolation, so it doesn’t bother me too much. However, I can fully relax and be myself whenever I’m at A-House. I’m surrounded by people who face the same microaggressions and stereotypes as I do on a daily basis.
Allow me to take that a step further by saying that I’m surrounded by people who actually look like me.
There are black students who share the same experiences as I do simply because they are black. There’s a certain level of comfort that comes with that. Every time I walk through the halls of A-House, I remind myself that I’m not alone in the struggles I have faced because of racism and oppression. The incorporation of black culture in the dorm is definitely a key part in what makes it so comfortable for black students. It is also what allows these students to connect with one another. I know I have connected with many of my friends simply because of our shared knowledge of black culture.
This space has existed for decades, so there’s a lot of history here. There’s a certain level of pride that comes with living in this environment.
As a student who lives in A-House, I can tell you that life in this dorm is as close to home as it gets. It’s lovely to walk through the halls and hear all sorts of music I listened to while I was growing up. From Lil Wayne to Jill Scott, I hear it all in this dorm. This is a space where black people can be comfortably and unapologetically black.
With that being said, the Soul Sessions are a culmination of collective black talent that is held in A-House from time to time.
Some of the most beautiful performances I’ve ever seen at Oberlin have happened at these sessions. I’m talking about world class talent here. There are amazing performances from Obies with entirely different talents to perform among one another. I’ve seen people rap on stage, dance, give beautiful poetry, play instruments, and so much more.
Another really cool thing to note is that the people who perform don’t just come from the conservatory. There are many performances from people in the college as well. The atmosphere is very “come as you are.” People in the audience are even encouraged to sign up and perform at the Soul Session. Sometimes, people do give in to the temptation and end up performing. That actually happens more than you would think. This is also because there’s a sign-in sheet to perform that is constantly being passed around as the soul sessions continue. The list of names doesn’t stop at the show. There isn’t a set deadline to sign up or anything. You can just come in, and if you’re confident and prepared, you can expect a wild reaction from the audience.
We like to show love to folks around here, especially when their performances are really good.
One of my favorite things about the sessions is the traditional “shoe tossing” that occurs. Yes, we literally throw shoes toward the performers if they’re killing it on stage. Mind you, we don’t actually throw them at the performers. That would make things pretty awkward! However, we make sure that the performers see the flying shoes coming their way. It’s a way of showing love, so it gives them confidence in whatever they are performing.
I know it may seem strange, but it’s actually really entertaining to see the shoes flying toward the stage as the performers are doing their thing. I have never seen a performer who was offended by the tradition. The person hosting the Soul Session usually lets the audience know about the tradition before it starts, so everyone is in on it by the time people start performing. If you see people throwing shoes at one of the sessions, don’t even worry about it. It’s just the way we show love around here.
Without a doubt, the A-House Soul Sessions are some of my favorite events on campus.
These events are so special to the black community here in Oberlin. For some people (including myself), they can be stress relievers. For me, sitting down and watching people be great on stage is very therapeutic. Not only that, but I am also surrounded by close friends who live in A-House with me. Other friends from different dorms come to the session as well, and that just makes the experience even better. Many of them are even considered family to me.
This leads me to tell you about my favorite aspect about both A-House and its Soul Sessions: They have created and helped me build relationships.
As I have said in some of my previous posts, the relationships I have created in Oberlin are my favorite aspects about it. A-House was a key part in helping me create those relationships, and I will forever be grateful for it.