On February 21st, the Grand Hall of the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center was packed with enthusiastic attendees for the 2019 Black Knowledge Bowl. Supported by the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs, the event was the final program presented by the center for this year’s Black History Month. A long-standing tradition, the theme of the night was “Please Don’t Stop the Music,” which corresponded to the Black History Month theme of “Lift Every Voice: A Celebration of Black Music and Art.” Complete with a DJ in the front of the hall, the interactive event recognized the significance of Black history and culture as a true celebration filled with fun and dance.
The Black Knowledge Bowl has been an essential program at the center for almost 30 years. The event has seen increased involvement by being more participatory and audience-centric. According to Monica Johnson, the director of the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center, the event changed to better engage students and directly work with black student organizations. “The first year that I, as the director, worked with the Black Knowledge Bowl, which I think was in 2017, we only had about 30 people,” she said. “There wasn’t as much community buy-in as we wanted. In moving it beyond just an opportunity to regurgitate facts about Black history and also include pieces of these Black cultural dynamics, it really gave us the opportunity to make the event educational and fun.”
Chandler Kelly, a sophomore studying Human Development and Family Studies from Indianapolis, expressed how she wanted to come to the event for that opportunity.
“I feel like a lot of people don’t know the history. They just know the songs, without the history of the artist or the reason behind the music itself,” Kelly said. “I think it’s important for everybody to learn the history of Black people because it’s not something that is focused on and taught.”
For the knowledge bowl, student representatives from five of the largest Black student-centered organizations on campus were selected to compete. The organizations represented were the African Student Association, Black Graduate Student Association, Black Student Union, National Pan-Hellenic Council, and the IU chapter of NAACP. These teams, and audience members alike, were quizzed on their knowledge of Black history and pop culture.
After teams were organized, the first challenge of the night was to correctly order the lyrics of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” commonly considered as the Black National Anthem. The teams had to sing their presented verses, some of which were not completely correct, but all of which the audience helped by singing along.
One of the most exciting parts of the night was the dance battle between the last remaining three teams. The dance battle was dictated by cue cards to properly dance popular dances like the electric slide, moonwalk, and the more modern milly rock. Most of the audience leapt out of their seats and danced with the competing teams. Despite the rankings, all teams gave a performance to remember.
In the final showdown of the Knowledge Bowl, the two remaining teams were given the challenge of creating an original song to a topic and genre pulled out of a mixed bag. Provided with only a backing track, the Black Student Union had to come up with a blues and the National Pan-Hellenic Council had to rap. Because the two teams were so talented with their finished songs, they had an extra round of coming up with a trap remix of a popular lullaby. After much deliberation, the National Pan-Hellenic Council was declared the winner.
Spirited and lively, the event highlighted how Black history and culture was an active part of American and global history. Regarding the importance of the event, Johnson expanded upon the program’s impact.
“It’s important because it continues a very valuable legacy within the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center family, of celebrating not only our past achievements, but the ways in which Black people are contributing to our world today, whether that is through art, music, history, science, innovation and technology and research,” she said. “We appreciate having the Black Knowledge Bowl because it gives us the opportunity to celebrate in a creative way the achievements of Black people in this country and the world.”