Overcoming through art: Camden’s Black History Month Tribute

4 mins read
Ronsha Dickerson, Nu’Rodney Prad, and Shandrika Merritt pose for a photo (Ahnyah Pinckney / Black In Jersey)

Over the weekend, the Center for Family Services and Swing Phi Swing collaborated to celebrate Black History Month through discussion, visuals, and performing arts. Cherelle Crook, a member of Swing Phi Swing and employee at the Center for Family Services, orchestrated the celebration at Rutgers Camden Center. “I thought it was a great idea to bring two entities that I’m a part of together to be even more impactful for the community and just bring the awareness of black art,” said Crook.

Iran Luis Mercado Jr. speaks. (Ahnyah Pinckney/ Black In Jersey)

This event included a dance selection, spoken word, singing, drums, a DJ, and a panel discussion.  Panelists discussed how important the arts are in Black culture and how community members can use the arts to express the challenges African Americans have faced throughout their lifetimes. One of the panelists, Ronsha Dickerson, explained how people can use music to inform others of current events and that all generations should be open to these new expressive forms. “If we start working little by little to use art, to use any form of art to be expressive to who we are today and to accept these levels of art. Then we can be able to start developing our people and meeting them where they are… I believe that’s the way we can use art as a way to build the power of black people, black liberation, and the movement,” Dickerson said.

Ambition the poet performing his spoken word poetry (Ahnyah Pinckney/ Black In Jersey)

Dickerson and her co-panelists emphasized the importance of having these art forms in the community and having conversations surrounding art. Dr. Shandrika Merritt, who also sat on the panel, says that this panel was informative, and she walked away feeling inspired. “Panels are interesting because sometimes you get on a panel and people are looking at you like you should know everything, but this particular one I learned. I walked away learning. I’ve learned a lot of things that I am going to go back and research and look into. I left inspired,”  Merritt said.

DJ, Ashley Archer and panelist, Nu’Rodney Prad pose for a photo. (Ahnyah Pinckney/ Black In Jersey)

This event incorporated many forms of art, including a spoken word read by Shalisha Cook and another by Ambition the Poet. Ray Lamar brought the people to their feet when he sang “Lift Every Voice at the event’s opening.”  Attendees were smiling ear to ear when students from Dream Makers Dance studio performed their selection of the song Stand Up from the movie Harriett. Crook says that her organization Swing Phi Swing hosts events in the community, often hoping to educate and bring people together.  “We are always in our communities and always networking. We do voter registration drives as well. This is an annual black history month celebration that we do every year. We do food pantries and give back to the front-line workers. We find different creative ways to kind of make sure that we’re available and giving back to our community, “ Crook said.

Percussionist, Sekou Dickerson performs at the event. (Ahnyah Pinckney/ Black In Jersey)