42nd annual BUS Renaissance Ball celebrates history

Lydia Coutré

Kasai Carter was so convinced she wouldn’t win that she didn’t hear her name announced when she was declared queen at last year’s Black United Students Renaissance Ball.

“I called my mom that night,” Carter said, “And I was like, ‘Mom, all those girls got asked to the prom, all those girls won prom queen and homecoming queen, and I never won,’ I said. ‘But this is like my homecoming. This was like my prom.’ And I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

Carter, sophomore human development and family studies major and reigning queen, will pass on her title at tonight’s 42nd annual BUS Renaissance Ball and Pageant in the Student Center Ballroom. Doors open at 7 p.m., and the event starts at 8 p.m.

Anyone is welcome to attend and formal wear is required.

Danea Rhodes, senior general studies major and BUS programmer, said the theme of the evening is “At Nefertiti’s Palace,” highlighted by Egyptian hors d’oeuvres, decorations and costumes. The $6,140 in funds for the event came from Undergraduate Student Government.

“It’s a celebration of our culture, and it means a lot to the community,” said Dylan Sellers, former BUS president and senior pan-African studies major. “It’s a well-attended, highly anticipated event for the year.”

Crowning the new queen will be bittersweet for Carter as she is sad to end her reign but excited to allow someone else the honor.

“I just hope whoever wins actually appreciates it as much as did,” Carter said. “I want it to mean something sentimental just as it did for me.”

Four men and eight women are competing for the titles of king, queen, prince and princess in the pageant. The pageant lasts about two hours during which student and faculty judges, whose names are not released, evaluate competitors on the basis of talent and formal wear.

The 12 competitors will begin the night with a group dance, with a girl dance and a guy dance later in the show.

To prepare for this, contestants spent October rehearsing 8 p.m.–midnight five days a week, with additional weekend preparations as the event grew near. Rhodes estimated contestants put in at least 55 hours of practice.

“We put in our hearts, our minds, time, everything into it,” said Ronnell Thompson, freshman human body movement major. “So at the end of the day when it’s all said and done, 150 percent is going to be out there.”

“Blood, sweat, tears and Powerade,” added Stephen Phillips, sophomore business major.

Thompson held out his scraped and scabbed knuckles as other contestants muttered agreements.

“It’s important because of the fact that we all signed up, and we signed up for a reason,” Phillips said. “We all signed up to just basically represent ourselves and represent this event basically to the fullest of our abilities.”

Carter said she signed up last year for very specific reasons: to overcome her fears and help raise her self-esteem.

“I was the biggest girl in my group,” Carter said, “And so it was like I actually had someone comment on it and say ‘You represented for the big girls’ afterwards, so that made me feel good. It’s showing for the girls who are in the audience that are not skinny. Plus size, you can win stuff like this too.”

Through winning the title of queen, she got more involved on campus, made connections with new people and even received calls about the singing she performed at the pageant.

“This whole entire essence of this helped me become more confident,” Carter said, “And I started my own personal journey as growing as a woman.”

History of the Ball

The Renaissance Ball was originally the Black Ball, an event for black students when they were not allowed to attend Kent State’s Homecoming. BUS began this in 1968. Timothy Moore, dean of arts and sciences, said he attended the 2nd and 3rd annual Black Balls as a student.

“Basically, the black ball was a way to recognize students at Kent State University that were not at that time being recognized through what was then the homecoming process,” Moore said.

Eventually Homecoming became inclusive, and the Black Ball evolved into the Renaissance Ball.

“I think it’s more of a cultural tradition now more than anything else,” Moore said. “It’s a matter of again recognizing those creative people from among our own ranks, whereas in the general homecoming process, that’s something tied more with the football game, the homecoming game, the events surrounding that.”

Sellers said that as a minority on campus, it’s important for BUS to push issues so students know what black culture is. The Renaissance Ball is a medium for that.

“It’s everything,” Sellers said. “It’s the culmination event for Black United Students to display our culture for the rest of the university. It gives us the opportunity to dispel the rumors and ideas that you see on TV, like the stereotypes.”

Elizabeth Ajunwa, political affairs and grievances chair for BUS and sophomore international relations major, said the presentation of the Renaissance Ball to the community means a lot.

“It’s a lot of work, and I think all of us have a lot of passion for it,” Ajunwa said. “It’s so much history. You want it to be good just because you know about what people did before you.”

Rhodes said she feels a sense of intimidation knowing that faculty, staff and alumni who have attended the ball before will be there again and have high expectations.

“It is definitely a lot of work into it, but you do it because you love the idea of it,” Rhodes said. “You love it from when you attended it, and then you love the tradition of it.”

Devin Butler, contestant and senior applied communications major, said that it’s important to keep the legacy alive in order to learn from the past.

“Without history, you don’t know where you’re going,” Butler said. “Cause if you don’t know where you’ve been, how can you know where you’re going?”

Carter said the people who fought for African-American rights are honored and remembered through the Renaissance Ball.

“Their essence lives through this event,” Carter said. “Their hard work lives and shows through this event.”

Carter said some people may think the event shows that “they’re still separating themselves from all the other students on campus, but it’s not like that. And to actually understand that, you would have to ask.”

She emphasized that although it celebrates black history, the event is open to everyone. Carter said she wishes a more diverse group of people came to the Renaissance Ball so they would be able to see the tradition and understand why they do it.

“It’s not about separation and continuing segregation,” Carter said. “It’s more about honoring those who made it possible. Yeah, now we can go to the homecoming, but without this and making statements and saying we can have something too, would we? Would we be there now?”