While Elon University has packed the month of February with events to celebrate Black History Month, there is one event that will not be held until May — the Donning of the Kente.
The Donning of the Kente is a newer event, organized by several organizations, such as the Center for Race, Ethnicity and Diversity Education, African and African American Studies at Elon, and the Office of Alumni Engagement.
The Donning of the Kente acts as an exclusive celebration for graduating African-American students. Seniors are presented with a stole made of kente cloth, an item reserved for high-ranking officials in African culture.
Deidra Smith, associate director of alumni engagement, commented on the deep meaning behind the cloth.
“The kente cloth symbolizes and celebrates prestige in many African societies,” Smith said in an email. “The cloth was worn by kings, queens and important figures of state in Ghanaian society, during ceremonial events and special occasions. In a cultural context, it is a visual representation of African history, philosophy, ethics, oral literature, moral values, social code of conduct, religious beliefs, political thought and aesthetic principles.”
Jason Aryeh, assistant professor of dance, orders the kente stoles from Ghana, where they are handmade in the Bonwire Kente weaving village, Aryeh said in an email. Aryeh’s study abroad program, Ghana Performing Arts in Cultural Context, visits the village to learn about the community.
All woven kente stoles received have the symbol “Sankofa,” which means “Go back and get it.”
“It is an important symbol in an African-American and African diaspora context to represent the need to reflect on the past and what lessons it has to teach us so that we can build a successful future,” Smith said.
The presentation of the cloth to the student also holds important meaning. Students are able to choose who will present them with the kente stole. The presenter uses this act as recognition of the hard work the student put into their passions and a wish of success for the future.
The sense of community brought by this celebration is a strong factor that makes it special to the black community at Elon University.
Senior Kenneth Brown Jr., executive president of SGA, offered his perspective on the ceremony.
“There’s obviously an emotional piece because you are around your friends who have struggled and celebrated with you. It’s graduation week, and all the emotions are running,” Brown said. “It’s a nice way to honor the work black students do on this campus over their career here.”
More than 100 students have participated in the Donning of the Kente ceremony, which replaced the African-American reception. Smith expects these numbers to grow even more in years to come.
The ceremony honors those with the immense potential to “keep changing the world,” Brown said.
Later this month, students and their families will receive invitations to the ceremony. The Donning of the Kente is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, May 23, in the Lakeside Meeting Rooms.