It all started when Victoria Fortune saw images of starving and naked Somali children on the news. Then came a tweet from a classmate and a message on Facebook asking if she would help organize an awareness event about the ongoing devastation hitting the east African country.
Fortune, a 21-year-old student at Howard University, knew right away that she wanted to help.
“I felt like it was my duty as an African-American and as a child of God to give back,” she said.
“Eternals Voices: A night with the legends,”will be held Thursday at Howard’s Cramton Auditorium to raise money for and awareness about Somali famine victims. Vocal jazz ensemble Afro Blue from NBC’s The Sing-Off and legendary poet/activist Amiri Baraka will headline the showcase.
Fortune and three other Howard University students came up with the Eternal Voices concept two months ago. The night will contain a mix of performance arts, including dance and spoken word poetry.
Last week, the United Nations declared Somalia’s famine over, but organization officials said that about 2.3 million Somalis were still in dire need of “life-saving assistance.” The nation was recently hit hard from its worst drought in 60 years, while food shortages and political instability has led to violence and hundreds of thousands of Somalis refugees.
The Students of Howard University Global Relief Fund chose the theme Eternal Voices to bridge the gap between Howard leaders of the past and the present. Every performer is either a Howard student, professor or alumnus. Baraka , for instance, attended the university in the 1950s and Afro Blue is a school jazz ensemble formed in 2002. Fortune said she believed performing arts is a powerful tool for healing, educating and communicating. She wants the mood for the event to be “informative but encouraging.”
Fortune, a native of Hyattsville, said she noticed a lack of enthusiasm for supporting serious events on campus when she attended the Howard/Morehouse student debate during the 2011 AT&T Nation’s Football Classic last September. She said she was surprised by the poor attendance. That day, “really put things in perspective,” she said and impelled her to organize “Eternal Voices”.
“It made me wonder what is going on with the [student’s] mentality,” she said. “Sometimes I think we care more about entertainment and parties than the socio-political issues affecting the world.”
Indeed, one of the biggest challenges Fortune said she faced while organizing the event was getting attention from students. She said she was surprised because when she organized a benefit concert after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, she in raised $15,000. But this time it’s been more difficult to get student’s attention.
“Because people are less aware of what’s happening in Somalia, it’s been a bit of a challenge educating the community,” Fortune said.
Britney Wilson, another coordinator for Eternal Voices, said some people have asked: Why Somalia? Their argument is that people are starving in the District and Africa “is a far off, distant place.”
Even so, Fortune said the group has sold 100 T-shirts and have raised about $1,000 in ribbon sales so far.
“I have faith in my university,” Fortune said. “I don’t think HU will let me down or its legacy down. I know that. I’m quite certain of that.”
Follow HU Somalia Relief on Twitter.
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