Members and supporters of Changó, the Afro-Latine Student Association and Spanish-Speaking Society at Howard University, gathered at the International Student House in Washington, D.C. for a night of love and celebration in the first annual “Noche de Gala.”
The gala marked the club’s first official year of being active since the COVID-19 pandemic. The theme of the night was, “queremos honrar a los que nos han honrado,” meaning “we want to honor those who have honored us.”
Guests mingled and networked amongst themselves while enjoying catering by Mecho’s Dominican Kitchen, which included arroz (rice), platanos (plantains) and carne (meat). A short film that recapped the social events, community outreach initiatives, team bonding and professional enrichment opportunities the club has hosted over the past academic year was preceded by opening remarks from the organization’s president, Obrian Rosario, a junior political science major and Spanish minor of Dominican heritage.
Henderson Kelly, the president of the Dominican Professionals Association, a nonprofit that connects metropolitan Washington, D.C. professionals of Dominican descent through networking, told The Hilltop that he wants to support Changó because it represents a small part of a larger mission to uplift and celebrate those who want to build within the Afro-Latine community.
“Organizations like Changó are really important due to the fact that there aren’t that many of them. Having something like Changó at an HBCU like Howard means a lot because of the diversity of the African diaspora that it brings. It is a big part of the culture that we are building, not only for students, but people like myself who would love to be a part of it, engage with them and help them reach their full potential,” Kelly said.
Local Dembow artist, Braudy Soprano, began the performances of the evening with an original Dembow song that brought the sound of the Dominican Republic to the stage. Afro-Peruvian and Cuban singer, Vicky Leva, brought the “ritmo (rhythm), calor (heat) y sabor (and flavor)” with her musical performance that spoke to the African roots in Latin America.
Kayla Cason, Changó’s vice president who is a senior biology major, helped announce the evening awards that recognized individual scholarship, support and leadership accomplishments from the members. The organization also revealed the “Sultan-Diego Award” for the member who most embodies the spirit of the club Changó and of their beloved member, Sultan-Diego Abdullah Sulayman, who passed away in 2022. Rosario was gifted with the inaugural honor of the award by Cason and treasurer, Elizabeth Julius.
“Being the first recipient meant a lot to me because I knew [Sultan] Diego personally, and he invested in me. His family invited me to speak at his memorial on Howard’s campus, and I’ve spent time with them just cherishing and remembering his spirit. I worked tirelessly to make sure that more folks had a home on campus as [Sultan] Diego did through Changó and to receive this award feels like the highest honor,” Rosario said.
Julius, a junior criminology and political science double-major, feels that it would be hard to sum up how much the club’s members and leadership have done to ensure the gala’s success.
“An immense amount of planning went into this. There’s no way to account for how many hours and months we put into this. This is a whole year’s worth of work on display,” Julius explained.
The organization’s dance team officially announced its new name, Rumba Del Vallé and dazzled guests with a dance routine that combined salsa, reggaeton, merengue, cumbia and bachata styles. Gabrielle Wood, a sophomore chemical engineering major and Spanish minor, is one of the original members of the former “Changó Dance Committee” and proud of what the club has grown into. As a beginner dancer, Wood wanted to help create a space for others who were passionate about Latin dance styles and their African roots.
“The Changó Dance Committee is proud to emphasize the African roots of Latin dance and celebrate its connections with other dances of the African diaspora. Our mission is to cultivate a vibrant community space that explores and celebrates the Afro-Latine experience at Howard University and beyond through the immersive cultural experience of dance,” Wood said.
Kashanti Taylor, a junior biology major, told The Hilltop that she came to support Alloire Thomas, a member of Rumba Del Valle, and appreciate the power of the music.
“Dancing is a really big part of her life, so I love to watch her perform. I am a dancer, too, and it is really nice to see people perform to different music. I don’t usually listen to music in Spanish in general, so it is really nice to see a different perspective in dance,” Taylor said.
The evening was filled with hugs and laughter, and the group concluded the banquet with their chant, “¡Pa’ alante (Forward), Pa’ siempre (Forever), Vamos Alla! (Let’s Go There!).”
Copy edited by Jadyn Barnett