In Focus: Black Ensemble

Black Ensemble is an organization on campus that creates a space for Black students to sing together and engage in other forms of self-expression. The organization embodies a philosophy of inclusion and love.

Founded just two years ago, Black Ensemble is a young organization on the St. Olaf campus. In those two years, however, Black Ensemble has put on numerous well-attended events, including concerts in Boe Chapel. This year, Black Ensemble has already hosted a successful poetry event and assisted with the “In Solidarity With Louisville” event on Sept. 25, which aimed to create an environment for Black women to speak out. The degree of campus awareness that Black Ensemble has developed in just two years is impressive.

“It’s feeling comfortable, it’s feeling natural, it’s flowing organically, that’s what I think we can attribute the success to,” said Black Ensemble co-chair Stephon Kindle II ’22.

Black Ensemble is more than just a choir.

“The singing is just one part. We have amazing dancers, we have extraordinary designers, we have musicians, we have people who emcee, who rap,” Kindle said.  “Everyone does whatever they want to do, and they feel comfortable enough to express themselves in that way. That’s what we try to do … That was the idea in the beginning.”

Black Ensemble utilizes many different forms of artistic expression to promote and celebrate Black culture and art. Black Ensemble sees the environment of non-judgmental expression as an even more significant goal than just the events and performances themselves.

“Ultimately, the goal and the thought process behind Black Ensemble is to work in accordance with different organizations like the Cultural Union for Black Expression (CUBE) and Karibu and try to make it so that we all have a safe space together that we can feel comfortable and, y’know, goof around in and talk about basic stuff we can relate to in our experiences,” Kindle said.

A campus like St. Olaf is in dire need of an organization such as Black Ensemble.

“Being on a predominately white institution’s campus, and being a person of color, it can be difficult to reach out to your own people and also feel connected and deeply rooted in where you’re at,” Kindle said. “There’s always a question of ‘should I be here,’ and that’s what Black Ensemble is; we’re a place where you don’t have to question if you can be here and be comfortable, just be where you are and be present.”

This commitment to comfort and inclusion does more than just benefit the people involved — it serves as a form of communication.

Black Ensemble wants to communicate to St. Olaf and the world at large that there needs to be more places where Black expression and art in all of its forms are not only permitted, but celebrated. The value of organizations and spaces like Black Ensemble is not just its utility to the community, but that the environment is valuable in and of itself.

Kindle sees this personal sort of connection as the main anti-racist tool of Black Ensemble. “If we can be understanding of each other’s issues … we can ultimately help our sphere of people. It’s the network expanding. That network of communication ultimately helps the overall good.”

This philosophy of connection, love and inclusivity has guided their process this year regarding COVID-19. The executive team did not want to risk people feeling uncomfortable participating due to dangers surrounding the coronavirus, so they have opted for online meetings and reduced event loads.

Kindle values the truly special nature of Black Ensemble, saying, “We encourage one another, we love one another, we care for one another. That’s the driving force.”

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