Music, healing and community building: Three Black students cultivate their passions amid COVID-19

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Amid COVID-19, continued police brutality and recent nation-wide acknowledgment of anti-Black racism, Black students have been faced with many challenges. Even so, students have found unique ways to cultivate their passions and find hope during these tumultuous times.  

ACE, the storyteller: Expression through music 

During COVID-19, ACE ’21 has been getting in touch with their inner thoughts and emotions through music, which initially began as a love for poetry. They said that they started writing in high school and later joined the Spoken Word Collective at Stanford.

“I’m really finding that there’s a lot of times when words fail me,” ACE said. “So music has been the language that’s been able to hold all of my complexities and expressions that don’t yet have names to them.”

They said that COVID-19 has impacted their music career in both positive and negative ways. Prior to the pandemic, they were able to record in studios using professional equipment: a very different experience than their usual process of recording with a laptop and microphone in their bedroom and producing their music themselves.

While ACE no longer has access to professional spaces, they said quarantine has allowed them to take ownership of their music and production process. 

“I have the opportunity to sit with my voice in a way that I don’t think I would have before quarantine, where I otherwise would have just sat in the booth, laid down some tracks and let somebody else do all that work,” they said.

ACE explained that they initially started writing poetry and songs because they have always felt misunderstood. They described their creative passions as their “truest expression” of themselves, and said that they get to know themselves through their music.

For ACE, music is grounding and has gotten them through tumultuous times during the pandemic and amid ongoing anti-Black racism in society. They said that they enjoy when their music is “some sort of protest.” 

“It’s an opportunity for me to be unapologetically myself and to be completely upfront with my opinions,” they said.  

Because of COVID-19, ACE said they have also been able to spend time with their brother and create music with him. ACE, their brother and their two cousins run a production company called Esoteric Creations, and ACE’s first solo song will be released on all platforms on March 1 under their stage name, ACE, the storyteller.

“Making music has really allowed me to express myself more fully and really touch on all of the different ways I feel,” they said. 

Dija Manly: Connecting with ancestors 

Dija Manly ’23 said that she has been focusing on holistic wellness during COVID-19, specifically looking into the way that wellness intersects with spirituality. 

Because hospitals are overwhelmed with COVID patients, Manly said that she has been learning more about herbalism and different ways to connect with her body using natural medicine. 

She added that, over quarantine, she has been looking into African Diasporic Religions to try and learn more about the gods that Black people worshipped prior to colonization and assimilation. As a wellness coordinator at Queer Student Resources (QSR), she said that she has been reaching out to people to ask them to speak to students about African Diasporic Religions and general health and wellness. 

She said that she has found comfort during the pandemic knowing that many of her interests align with practices of African Diasporic Religions. 

“It’s almost like coming home,” she said. “Realizing that the things that you’ve done your whole life are actually a part of a larger culture.”

Manly said that she has struggled to connect with people, including her family and friends, during the pandemic, and that her focus on spirituality and wellness has given her an “alternative path toward finding community.” For her, connecting with her ancestors is a constant practice that involves being mindful about the way that she moves about the world and seeking out passions and projects that she feels her ancestors are guiding her toward. 

Manly, a recipient of the Chappel Lougee Scholarship, said that she received an intuitive message from her ancestors telling her to research medical racism because her family has a deep history of being impacted by the issue. She said that she will specifically be researching Black women who have been affected. 

“I just knew that I had to do it — I had to fight for that and I had to really honor my ancestors in that way by doing work that made sure that this never happened to anybody else,” she said. 

According to Manly, this practice entails constantly thinking about how people come from legacies, and the way that her legacies play into who she is and what she does.  

“When I’m researching or doing anything that has to do with wellness and reconnecting with my ancestors, I think it just makes me feel at home,” Manly said. “At home in my body, at home in my society and just really understanding my place in society on a deeper level.” 

Tamilore Awosile: Inspiring Black high school students

During COVID times, Tamilore Awosile ’23 said he has been continuing his work expanding the Black Head Students’ Network, an organization that he founded and launched two years ago that aims to inspire, inform and influence Black students in the United Kingdom (UK). 

The network consists of current and former Black Head Students, Head Boys and Head Girls at secondary schools in the UK, which are the equivalent of student body presidents in the United States. 

“By coming together and having this group of Black student body presidents, we hope to inspire other Black students to view it as an achievable role, even for students who are minorities within their schools,” Awosile said. 

In addition to creating mentorship and community building opportunities, Awosile said that his organization seeks to “inspire people by raising the ceiling of ambition.” A part of this work involves collaborating with companies and bringing in guest speakers from different industries. He said that they try to bring in Black speakers when possible because “it just makes it seem more achievable if you see someone like you, especially in fields where Black people have been traditionally underrepresented.”

During COVID, Awosile said that he has seen immense growth in the organizations’ membership due to the new online format of events and other programming. Prior to the pandemic, people had to travel to London to attend events, which was not feasible for all of the members depending on which part of the UK they lived in. Now, he said that more people are able to attend. 

At the start of the pandemic, the network had 50 members, and they now have 130, according to Awosile. He added that 60 people attended their first event, and that their various events have since reached a total of over 600 people. 

“The pandemic has been a really good opportunity to reach more people and work with more companies,” Awosile said. “And also to serve our members and the wider community in meaningful ways in this time of need.”

But, it has also brought new challenges for Awosile. He currently lives on campus, and said that the time difference coupled with the virtual format has made it increasingly difficult to run the organization from a different country. He now has to wake up at 3 a.m. some days because events start at 11 a.m. in the UK. 

However, he said that the satisfaction he gets from his work within the organization outweighs this inconvenience. 

“Just seeing seeds that you plant or things that you helped people out with actually come to fruition and materialize — those things are really rewarding,” he said. 

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Malaysia Atwater is a desk editor in the News section. She is a sophomore from Colorado, and she enjoys dancing and re-watching Grey's Anatomy in her free time. Contact her at matwater 'at' stanforddaily.com.