“Please stand for something,” said Deyonte Austin as he stood on stage at Lazzaro Plaza, his arms and legs in shackles.
Austin, a junior majoring in music industry, was playing the role of a slave in the Black Student Assembly’s re-enactment of a slave auction on Thursday. The event was held in honor of Nakumbuka Day — dedicated to Africans who died on the Middle Passage — a route of the slave trade. About 1 to 2 million slaves died on the Middle Passage.
As he recited his speech on stage, Austin began to cry. He said after ward that re-enacting the role of a slave deeply moved him.
“For a second, I felt like I was actually in that position,” he said. “My grandfather used to tell me stories like this. He saw it … I could never forget.”
“Nakumbuka” translates to “I remember” in Swahili. The slave auction re-enactment was held to ensure people did remember — or, for those who had never heard of the day, to teach about the plight of slaves traveling from Africa.
The re-enactment drew in many passersby as Chris McAbery, a Caucasian male, led three black students — Austin, Rachel Brown and Brandi Vicks — from Tommy Trojan to Lazzaro Plaza.
Austin, Brown and Vicks, playing the role of slaves, wore shackles around their necks and were tied together in a line. They wore dirty, ripped clothes and hung their heads as they walked.
McAbery led the three slaves onto a stage. He displayed them each individually, and then each spoke — Austin recited a poem about slavery, Vicks detailed the horrors of the Middle Passage and Brown spoke as if she were a slave who was making the journey.
About 30 people were gathered at Lazzaro Plaza when the re-enactment began; many more stopped to see what was happening and stayed to hear the speeches.
“It was definitely eye-catching,” said Gabe Suranyi, a senior majoring in business administration, who had never heard of Nakumbuka Day before. “It was a good idea.”
Eye-catching is precisely what the BSA was aiming for. Though it has held memorials for Nakumbuka Day in past years, Tirsa St. Fort, executive director of BSA said the group had hoped to stage an event that would draw people in.
“We were going for people who might not have heard of it,” she said. “The speakers were intense — it caught attention. It was a lot different.”
The event was intense for those who participated, as well.
“I got a couple of dirty looks,” said McAbery, a junior majoring in economics. “But I remembered it’s for a good cause.”