At the Black Solidarity conference, freshman Adrianna Stapleton attended the session on "Science Fiction/Social Reality: An Islamic View of Race," led by Shane Atkinson, the associate chaplain for Muslim life. Stapleton reflected on her experience at the session noting her newfound knowledge about the Islamic faith and the significant presence of Black Muslims in America. 

“We talked about how some of us walked in there and didn't know much about the Islamic faith. But we left with this new understanding, and these assumptions that you may have had before started to disappear,” Stapleton said. “You realize new things and it made you just see a different light. I think it's important to do that if we want to move forward, you have to reach a common understanding and a common ground with people.” 

In a testament to resilience and solidarity, the 10th Annual Black Solidarity Conference set grace to the halls of Elon University on Feb. 23. 

Originating from a historic movement birthed in 1969 by Brooklyn College professor Carlos Russell. Since its inception at Elon University in 2014, many believe the conference has served as a unifying factor for Black students.

Simone Royal, assistant director of the Center of Race, Ethnicity, and Diversity Education, helped coordinate events for Black History Month. Reflecting on this year's Black Solidarity Conference theme –"Rhythm of Resilience"-- Royal drew inspiration from the commemoration of 50 years of Hip-Hop in 2023, highlighting the enduring connection between Black communities and resilience. Royals strategy included inviting organizations and speakers to promote allyship and inclusion within the community. 

“Resilience is one of the words that always resonates with Black people or something they always have to overcome,” Royal said. “Black people always have to be resilient in hard times, and just the idea of music and how music is something that brings communities together.”

Reflecting on her own experience as an Elon student in 2017, she recalls a time when the conference was exclusively for individuals identifying as Black or African American. She believes opening the conference to all students greatly benefits the community.

“Being curious enough to learn outside of your own identity and attend an event such as this one might be a way to learn from others,” Royal said. “Allyship is more than just saying that you’re an ally but taking action and being proactive.”

It wasn’t until 2019 that the conference was opened to all students. The topics discussed in the conference all revolved around addressing racism and anti-blackness, as well as Black culture and identity.

Melanie Bullock Harris, director of the Center of Leadership at American University, served as the director of the Center of Leadership until January, 2023 at Elon University and was the keynote speaker. She addressed the audience and reminisced about the campus's beauty and the community's warmth. Emphasizing the importance of engagement and dialogue, Harris urged attendees to dedicate themselves to creating a more socially just world.

Themes of resilience, music and social change were throughout her speech, with Harris drawing parallels between the rhythm and noise in music. The call to "make noise" was presented as a form of empowerment and resistance against injustice, highlighting the transformative power of music and community solidarity.

“I wanted people to be inspired to create change and not hold back from seeing themselves and creating some type of change,” Harris said. “I want them to understand the power of resilience through my own story, being able to hopefully encourage people to continue to smile, to continue to be excited about what could be and live in the joy of what resilience can bring as well.”

Harris shared personal reflections on facing adversity with hope and determination and revealed her recent diagnosis of cancer. She cited the song "Keep Your Head Up" by Tupac Shakur as a source of inspiration in her battle, emphasizing the importance of resilience in overcoming challenges.

“It was a really good personal experience for me to sit in writing this because the theme alone inspired me to be able to pull out things through the speech and writing that connects to the theme of the conference,” Harris said. “It excited me, brought me joy. It allowed me to sit through some challenges I had been sitting in as well and face some things, too. It also allowed me to tell a piece of my story. So it brought many great things, a lot of emotions, but a lot of joy.” 

Harris curated a playlist that served as a sonic journey through adversity, hope, and unity — carefully selecting tracks to align with the conference's themes. It starts with the classic "Ease on Down the Road" from the film "The Wiz," the playlist emphasized resilience in navigating life's challenges. As it unfolded, it blended genres and eras, reflecting the diversity of experiences within the Black community. Tracks like Soulja Boy's "Put Your Swag On" and Kendrick Lamar's "DNA" celebrated self-confidence and personal identity, encouraging listeners to embrace their unique strengths and heritage.

“I love music. I think music has been this empowering forcefield for me. Songs have kept me going and have made me happy,” Harris said. “I was excited to be able to translate rhythms of resilience to the art of noise and music.” 

During the roundtable talks, attendees delved into the complex concept of systemic racism, shedding light on its subtle yet common nature within societal structures. Led by sophomore Maleah Proctor, starting with defining systemic racism as ingrained biases within systems that perpetuate discrimination without plain acts of hatred.

“One of the biggest tools we have is using the power of personalization, power of awareness and connection with peers to spread awareness about these issues,” Proctor said. “If there's no awareness about an issue, there can be no change because people don't know it exists.” 

Proctor’s personal journey, inspired by her participation in a civil rights exploration class, underscored the importance of understanding historical legacies — particularly the connection between slavery and the modern prison system. Drawing parallels between past atrocities and contemporary injustices, attendees examined historical cases of police brutality such as the lynching of William Morley in 1896 or the recent deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in 2020.

“I think one of the main takeaways from my presentation was definitely that slavery, while it did happen in the past still, has very real and lasting effects on systems that disenfranchised people today and things that are happening today,” Proctor said. “I just want to emphasize the relevancy of that and today's light and just make sure people understand that there is still work to be done.” 

Juniors Eliana Olivier and Matthew Flacksenburg led another roundtable discussion about intersectional environmentalism. The discussion emphasized how environmental movements often neglect the contributions of marginalized communities. Historically, Black and indigenous groups have disproportionately suffered from environmental damage and have led environmental activism. 

“It’s sort of a topic that gets whitewashed. Typically, the people who get all the praise are rich white dudes, but if you look back at the history of environmentalism, it's been a long history of specifically Black and indigenous communities being harmed by environmental damage, and they've been always leading the charge in environmental movements,” Flacksenburg said. “It's important to sort of spread the word and give them the recognition they deserve.” 

Olivier and Flacksenburg reflected on the value of open conversations about environmental issues and justice, underscoring the importance of events like this for addressing topics such as race, inequity and justice. They emphasized how these discussions provide opportunities to learn from diverse perspectives and experiences, which may not be typically covered in academic settings. 

“I think it is a great way to have discussions that you're not having in class, those questions that professors aren't answering,” Olivier said. “I think this facilitates a great way to learn from people with expertise and different experiences when you're having discussions about race inequity and justice.”

Throughout the event, speakers and participants emphasized themes of empowerment and social justice. From keynote speeches to discussions on systemic racism and intersectional environmentalism, the conference provided a platform for transformative conversations.

“If you don't make a conscious effort to create spaces for these kinds of events and conversations, they might go unheard and that would be a shame,” Flacksenburg said.