All about soul

Jackie Mantey

Eastway offers home cooking

Anthony Parker, freshman business major, plays drums in Voices of Testimony during the Soul Food Dinner at Eastway.

Credit: Jason Hall

As the doors to Eastway opened last night, an outpouring of laughter and singing filled the ears, and the aroma of sweet potato pie and collard greens filled the nostrils.

Students who came into Eastway Cafeteria and were welcomed with the sights and sounds of Dining Service’s Soul Food Night.

This is the fourth year for the event, and it is only getting better, said Eugene Walters, marketing director of Dining Services.

“It is a part of our commitment to having quality programs,” he said. “It is so popular.”

Popular indeed, Eastway cook Dawn Rios said.

“It is definitely huge,” she said. “People talk about it all the time, and we have been planning for it for so long.”

Cornbread, fried chicken, catfish, macaroni-and-cheese, green beans and yams were some of the options students could choose from, but it is more than the grub that defines soul food.

“It is very much like home-cooking,” Walters said. “It is good for the soul.”

Gathered around a table for four, Shardell Artis, Helen Arwa, Ashli Johnson and Lemlem Zerayesus joked and danced to the music. To them, soul food is more about being together than enjoying the food.

“This is about letting go and being free,” said Johnson, a freshman nursing major. “It’s all about having fun.”

The dinner provided a chance to get away from classes and enjoy each other’s company, they said.

“This is my family here,” said sports management major Artis. “Soul food is about being with your family.”

Johnson said she agreed and felt like she was back home at church.

That church feeling came from Voices of Testimony, a university choir organization, that sang gospel music and provided entertainment at the dinner with feet stomping, hand clapping and loud voices.

“We have had them the past two years,” Walters said. “Everyone can identify with them. They are inspirational and honest.”

Backed by drums, a trumpet and two keyboards, Voices of Testimony added another level of celebration as students watched, danced or sang along.

But not everyone was prepared for the festivities.

“I was shocked,” said Autumn Green, freshman nursing major. “I knew they were having soul food, but I didn’t know it would be this big.”

Green and her friends felt at home though and said they had a great time.

“I loved the sweet potato pie,” she said.

Soul food often is stuck with the stereotype that only blacks use the term, a stereotype that Rios said they are breaking.

“This event makes everyone feel so close,” she said. “Color doesn’t matter. It is for all cultures.”

The sense of unity the dinners create is the main goal for such events, Walters said.

Walters said Dining Services has scheduled another Soul Food Night for next semester and he expects it to remain as popular.

Contact College of Architecture and Environmental Design and School of Art reporter Jackie Mantey at [email protected].