College of Charleston Students Honored for Art, Poetry, Activism

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As part of the "Discovering Our Past" Expression of the Year contest, four students' art, poetry and activism are now showcased in the Septima Clark Memorial Auditorium.

On March 28, 2024, the College of Charleston Committee for Commemoration and Landscapes honored four students for their participation in the “Discovering Our Past” Expression of the Year contest: Cadence Brown, theatre major, for poetry; Mika Olufemi, double major in international studies and mathematics, for art; and Devin Hammonds, business administration major, and Madison Meeks, chemistry and biochemistry major, for activism.

The students’ works are included in the exhibition in the Thaddeus Street Jr. Education Center Septima Clark Memorial Auditorium and convey ongoing efforts and work needed in Charleston to address issues related to racism, sexism and economic inequities – the themes and values that Black educator, leader and activist Septima Poinsette Clark expressed through her own life.

Brown writes poetry to advocate for change and draw attention to injustices. Her poem, “Black Girl, Don’t Speak,” say contest judges – Gary Jackson, associate professor of English and director of the College’s undergraduate creative writing program; McKayla Watkins ’19 (M.F.A.), adjunct English faculty member; and Techa Smalls-Brown, adjunct teacher education faculty member and director of Sisters of Septima – “takes us on a vivid ride, steered by a central speaker with a raw and powerful voice, using a refrain that shifts over time, first to problematize enforced silence, then to problematize enforced speech, and finally to reclaim the speaker’s agency over speaking, ending in triumph.”

“I was extremely excited to hear about the Septima Clark contest as both a Black woman embarking on my educational journey and a future educator who hopes to provide children with the representation that I rarely had growing up,” says Brown. “I realize how influential Mrs. Clark was and is to Black people’s literary education, and I wanted to be able to honor her and what she has done for me.”

Olufemi’s art, instead of memorializing Clark, “presents a contemporary remake of the image of a bold, strong Black woman – even unapologetic in her glance,” say judges Sara Frankel, chair of the Department of Studio Art, and Chase Quinn, co-director of education and programs and curator of special projects at the Gibbes Museum of Art.

Hammonds and Meeks won in the activism category. Hammonds, a 1967 Legacy Scholar, plans to contribute to the reduction of food insecurity in Charleston with monthly Freedom Bag Food Drives. Hammonds was inspired by Clark’s work on local issues involving public health and food stamp programs. Meeks partnered with local nonprofits to give CofC students opportunities to gain community service hours.

In addition to showcasing these students’ works, the exhibit in the Septima Clark Memorial Auditorium also now features Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.; its Charleston graduate chapter, Gamma Xi Omega, where Clark was president from 1952-54; and the College of Charleston’s undergraduate chapter, Iota Omicron. Other images commemorate generations of CofC student-activists alongside local heroes who, like Clark, created positive change in their communities.

Students Tanner Crunelle ’20 (M.F.A. ’24), Alex Ford and Jamirika Randall helped produce the exhibition with English professor Julia Eichelberger and members of Gamma Xi Omega, assistant professor of history Shannon Eaves and associate professor of English and director of the 1967 Legacy Program Valerie Frazier ’91 (M.P.A. ’94).

“Often, the most surprising and meaningful part of creating an exhibition at the College is the contributions made by students,” says adjunct sociology and anthropology faculty member Joanna Gilmore, who designed the exhibit. “The contest provided students with an opportunity to interpret and convey issues championed by Septima P. Clark. The poetry, artwork and activism projects created and completed by Cadence, Mika, Devin and Madison encourage us to see through their eyes, through new perspectives that demonstrate the ongoing importance and power of activism. As a lifelong educator, I think Septima Clark would be proud of the ways that these students are honoring her legacy.”

To learn more, visit the College of Charleston’s Discovering Our Past website.

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