The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

Second annual Black History Month Gala

A night of awareness, hope, music and fun at The Lismore
Photo by Russell Teske
Attendees gather on the dance floor as Uncommon Denominator prepares for another song.

The Lismore Hotel in downtown Eau Claire hosted the second annual Black History Month gala on Saturday, March 2. It was a night with zero empty tables as everyone wore their best suits and dresses for the occasion.  

Casaiya Keyser, the lead organizer of the event and a third-year student at UW-Eau Claire, said this was more than a black tie event.  

“The goal is to just get together and celebrate, and also allow the community to come together and recognize Black History Month as something that’s important,” Keyser said. “I think we all just had a big idea and we kind of threw it to the wall and it stuck, and I think that in years to come it’ll get bigger and bigger.”

Another purpose was to help raise money for the Black Excellence scholarship, a college fund available to Black students from kindergarten to college with no specific requirements on what the money is to be used for.   

Story continues below advertisement

After dinner was served, from baked chicken to white mac and cheese, everyone had settled in and the night began with a rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a hymn which is widely considered to be the Black national anthem. 

After the performance, Berlye Middleton, the first African American elected to the Eau Claire City Council in 2001, gave a speech on the importance of Black History Month and what its creator, Carter G. Woodson, intended for its purpose.   

“This is not just Black history, this is history,” Middleton concluded in his speech. 

“I think it’s important for us to think about all of the contributions of African Americans,” city councilmember Roderick Jones said. “I think that when we come to celebrate what we have come to call Black History, it is important for us to think of it as history in and of itself.”   

As the night moved forward, UW-Eau Claire graduate student and applied voice major Elijah Vanderpoel would continue the night with a musical performance of his own, followed by a poem reading.   

Keyser would then appear on stage with Amina Dagons and Chase Bucheger and sing a rendition of “Stand Up,” from the film “Harriet”, a film about the abolitionist Harriet Tubman. 

Following the music, the winning recipients of the Black Excellence scholarships were announced. Aaliyah Jones, Serenity Brand, Keaton Edwards, and Justin Jackson were named scholarship recipients.

Justin Jackson is a student in the third grade and the son of Stacey Jackson, an associate professor of psychology at UW-Eau Claire.  

Stacey Jackson said there should be no age limits on the applicants and what the money can be put towards.  

“There were a handful of applicants that spoke about the fact that when they were younger, their parents didn’t put that money aside for them for a college fund,” Jackson said. “And so thinking of younger kids applying for a scholarship, that could go towards a college fund down the road.”    

A raffle was then held to further fundraise for the gala with items ranging from gift certificates to Famous Dave’s to a framed photo of the Institute of Aspiring Abolitionists. 

Aspiring Abolitionists is an organization led by Jason Sole, a former felon and criminal justice professor at Hamlin University, to help provide political education for community members to learn effective ways to improve relationships and reduce harm within their community. 

After that, all that was left to do was to let the music take it from there. 

Uncommon Denominator, an Eau Claire-based music group, was the main source of entertainment for the rest of the night.  

From then on, the dance floor was full of attendees both young and old, with the band performing covers of old and new songs from Stevie Wonder to Lizzo.

At the end of the night the band, along with Keyser, performed a Lizzo soul single, “Cuz I Love You.”

Keyser said the gala is meant to make Black voices in the Eau Claire community heard and hold a conversation around the importance of Black education and scholarships to unite the city of Eau Claire. 

Teske can be reached at [email protected].

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

The Spectator intends for this area to be used to foster healthy, thought-provoking discussion. Comments are expected to adhere to our standards and to be respectful and constructive. As such, we do not permit the use of profanity, foul language, personal attacks or the use of language that might be interpreted as libelous. The Spectator does not allow anonymous comments and requires a valid email address. The email address will not be displayed but will be used to confirm your comments.
All The Spectator Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *