Calvin College Chimes

African Student Association holds charity banquet

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African Student Association holds charity banquet

Photo courtesy ASA.

Photo courtesy ASA.

Photo courtesy ASA.

Photo courtesy ASA.

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The African Students Association (ASA) at Calvin College was created in 2012. In a span of 5 years it has completely re-invented its vision, mission and purpose as a student organization to integrate more meaningful and impactful goals.

This path was set up by the 2016-2017 executive team, led by senior Chinelo Ezenwelu, in their launching of the first annual ASA Charity Banquet, themed “Goge Africa,” which means “Africa Unite.”

Not only was this banquet a success, it helped forge a new direction for this student organization as they aimed at extending their reach and impact outside the gates of Calvin and into the Grand Rapids refugee community.

“To be honest, it surpassed my expectations,” reflected Ezenwelu “Seeing a lot of people come out to support our cause made my team very gratuitous for the platform we had. I really did not think 150 people would attend our banquet.”

Ezenwelu explained how the idea of a charity banquet came about in the first place:

“Having been orphaned during the summer of 2016, I thought of an event for ASA to

serve as a means of support for orphans in Africa who do not have the opportunity I have. But seeing as it would be risky to send in funds to orphanages outside the U.S., I ultimately

decided to rather center on refugees in Michigan because in some way have they also been orphaned from their cultures and the lifestyle they are accustomed to.”

On campus, ASA became known for their dance parties and the great food served at their events and, sadly, this has defined the organization. Most members would attend ASA events mainly for food and to engage in the communal atmosphere, which drove the team to spring into action to completely rethink the purpose of their events.

The executive team wanted their event attendants to leave with some sort of positive imprint on their minds, one which would encourage them to want to get involved in impacting their immediate environment in whatever possible way. This idea laid the foundation for the conception of a charity banquet.

To achieve the goals set for this charity banquet, the 2017-2018 executive team, led by junior Adeola Opawuyi, the president of ASA, is working with Bethany Christian Services to understand the ins and outs of refugee settlements, their needs, and in what ways they could offer their help.

Also, through Bethany, the ASA team was introduced to the Mukaratee family, who had moved to the U.S. just two months before ASA met them. They were not prepared whatsoever to face their first Michigan winter, and ASA saw an opportunity to step in and help.

Additionally, the eldest daughter in the family faced the challenge of continuing her education in a new country. ASA’s president decided to take her under her wing as a mentor,

to help her get back into school through an English as a second language (ESL) program, with the end goal of her obtaining a GED.

Opawuyi said, “Once it’s in my capability and power to offer help, there’s no need not to.”

One key principle that has always stood at the center of this organization is the prime notion that ASA events create a communal space for African students on Calvin’s campus and everyone who is open to learning about and integrating themselves into African culture.

ASA was conceived as an organization with the primary goal of creating a home away from home for African students at Calvin. Over the years, it became more geared towards creating a space where anyone can come to learn about African cultures and grow in their appreciation and acknowledgement for them.

This goes to say that ASA is not solely for African students, which is a major misconception plaguing the face of the organization. All their events are open to the entire Calvin community, with everyone standing to benefit from ASA in one way or another.

Sophomore and ASA executive member Maxine Asante said, “My decision to join the ASA team was solely based on my desire to try and help make people understand that the organization is very much culturally diverse and accepting. Most people regard ASA as being only for Africans, but it really isn’t. ASA is for anyone who is interested in learning about different African cultures and traditions and want to engage with and in these cultures.”

Every year the executive team picks a theme for the banquet to embody their vision for the event, and this year’s theme was ‘Wakanda: Reimagining Africa’s Future’.

While the inspiration behind ‘Wakanda’ may be obvious, the influence the fictional country is what will be touched upon at the Banquet this year.

The promise of a ‘Wakanda’ serves as a template for which people can envision a continent taking advantage of its potential, prime in its riches and in all its glory, be built up to the standard it is worthy of.  With this at the forefront, the banquet seeks to engage attendants in thought and discussions centered on how and in what ways they can get involved and help out with ASA’s cause.

Just as at last year’s Banquet, all the money made from ticket sales and donations go towards the helping of refugee families in Grand Rapids. This stands on the hope that more money is made this year, in order for at least more than one family to reap its benefits.

The future of ASA as a student organization may seem ambitious yet well-defined. With the banquet being annual, this has set a promising path to open many beneficial avenues for this organization to reach and impact more families in the immediate community.

They call upon every and anyone who wants to join their cause to attend their Banquet on April 14 with tickets being sold both online and at the Calvin Box Office. There is definitely way more that can be done, but also recognizing just how limiting being a student organization is is vital to understanding just how much ASA can stretch themselves into achieving what they are setting out to do.

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