Teams compete and celebrate at Black Culture Bowl

Members of team The Panthers work on creating a timeline of a series of black history-related events. Friday, March 6, 2020. Kathy Ou/The Occidental

Cheers and cries burst from Choi Auditorium’s audience as teams competed against each other on stage, playing games such as Jeopardy and Taboo. Hosted by the Student Leadership, Involvement, & Community Engagement (SLICE) Office, Occidental College’s first Black Culture Bowl gathered more than 30 attendees to celebrate black culture and history.

The event was broken up into five games where two teams — the Panthers and the Lions — answered questions about black history, pop culture and sports. In each round, team captains and members were selected through a series of pop quizzes. Questions ranged from who was the black artist that won eight Grammys, to which country the first black female gymnast to win a gold medal in the Olympics was from. Those who answered correctly got to play in the round. Members of the winning team of each round won a prize. Prizes included Occidental College hoodies, movie tickets and Cheesecake Factory coupons.

DJ Adams (junior), SLICE program coordinator for affinity, hosted the event. Adams said student coordinators have been brainstorming ideas for community-building events for campus affinity groups since last semester. Drawing inspiration from game nights and similar events at other colleges, Adams said he wanted to adapt them to suit Occidental’s campus culture.

“The intention for me was to bring an event that all black students on campus would enjoy. They could connect, they could see other black people, they could indulge in their blackness in their culture, in their month,” Adams said.

SLICE initially scheduled the event for Feb. 28 but changed it a week later to March 6 because of a time conflict with two other campus events, Viktor Kerney, associate director of orientation and student success, said. While Adams said via email that hosting the Black Culture Bowl at the original time may not have been appropriate, referring to the college’s recent loss of two black students — Ilah Richardson (first year) and Jaden Burris (sophomore) — he said the event was still an important one. Richardson’s memorial took place at Herrick Chapel Feb. 3 and Burris’ Feb. 25.

“With everything going on in the school, everything [that] has been going on on-campus, I feel like an event where we can just be and enjoy the company of others and laugh and think back to a relevant moment in our childhood that we may have forgotten or lost or just everything going on on campus and school,” Adams said. “The only thing that’s really been keeping people moving — has kept people together — is each other.”

Kerney said he took inspiration from the black comedian and actress Amanda Seales, who brought celebrities to play games on the show Smart Funny & Black. Working with student coordinators, Kerney said Adams has helped make the questions of the games more relevant and suitable to current Occidental students.

“There’s things I won’t know, like what y’all listen to or, who’s the hot group, hot rappers, so he made it more conducive to your culture,” Kerney said. “He made it more applicable to everybody and within that age range.”

There were questions on more recent trends in black pop culture in addition to historical events. Payton Johson (first year) was an attendee and videographer of the event for Black Students Association (BSA) and Harambee. He said the questions overall were culturally relevant, with the tougher questions pertaining to events before 2000.

“Nothing was out of the blue or left field or didn’t make sense,” Johnson said. “The difficulty level was hard enough, but it was really fun.”

Team The Panthers and team The Lions play against each other on the game Taboo. Friday, March 6, 2020. Kathy Ou/The Occidental

Arman (Mon) Henry (sophomore) was the captain of The Panthers. He said the event left him feeling relaxed and empowered. He said he particularly enjoyed the second game, Taboo, in which a selected person from the team was shown an item — such as a song, a person or a group — related to black culture and had to describe it to the rest of the team without mentioning a set of taboo words. The team that guessed the most in a minute won.

“It was fun. The time limit, just having to guess, and the questions were a bit easier during that one. It’s a bit of a quicker game. It was all about thinking fast rather than knowing the answer,” Henry said.

The night’s greatest surprise was when Occidental College’s upcoming president Harry J. Elam Jr., along with the college’s Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Rob Flot, paid the event a visit. Adams was finishing reading a quote from Kobe Bryant after a Jeopardy question about which basketball player won more than 80 points in a single game when he introduced the president to the cheering and clapping crowd.

After the college’s cancellation of the welcome reception the same day due to COVID-19 health concerns, the attendees of the Black Culture Bowl were the first group of students President Elam connected with.

Kerney said he was glad many students chose to stay for this event at the beginning of the college’s spring break and he wished to continue hosting it in the future.

“I hope it’s a fun event and I hope it’s something we continue to do every year. But I also hope that it’s just a moment for black students to kind of relax and be themselves and have a good time,” Kerney said.