Gospel music rang through Jesse Hall as the opening event of the 34th annual Big XII Conference on Black Student Government commenced Thursday night.
Thursday’s event was dubbed the Gospel Extravaganza and featured performers, including dancers, singers and a mime, from MU and the Columbia area.
“This is a staple piece that we do every year,” said Lisa White, Big XII Conference Planning Committee chairwoman and Legion of Black Collegians president. “It’s to give a spiritual taste of what’s going on.”
The Gospel Extravaganza shared the evolution of gospel music, beginning with music in the folk tradition and progressing to rap genres. The night ended with two performances of stepping, a form of rhythmic dance with African roots.
The purpose of the conference is to teach students to become leaders, but Thursday’s event had a spiritual side, White said.
“It’s important because, for so many years, the Christian - the Baptist – religion has played such a big role in our community,” White said. “We looked on it to find our leaders, so it makes sense that this is a leadership conference.”
Student representatives from 40 universities around the country attended the conference, which includes workshops relating to topics like health, finance and leadership and boasts keynote speakers including CNN anchor Soledad O’Brian. It will culminate with a Step Show and party on Sunday night.
“The Gospel Extravaganza sets the tone for the entire weekend,” Planning Committee member Lakeisha Williams said. “As a black student here, you are facing issues that other students in your situation can’t relate to.”
Between performers, videos depicted footage of African Americans throughout history.
“This whole weekend is important, because it’s teaching us as a race to not be complacent,” Workshop Committee member Lischen Reeves said. “It’s important to show that we’re progressing.”
Performers have been rehearsing for the event since the beginning of the semester, freshman singer Symonne Sparks said.
“It was really awesome because it wasn’t for me – it was for God,” Sparks said. “It gives us a chance to come together and enjoy each other’s company.”
The Big XII Council on Black Student Government was created in 1977, when African American students from each of the schools in the Big Eight Conference came together to address problems in their schools. MU students formally created the Big Eight Council and Conference on Black Student Government in 1978. Since then, the conference has expanded to include more schools and takes place at a different school every year.
“The gospel event is something that you take not in mind, but in body and soul,” White said. "It’s supposed to uplift you in a way that nothing else can."