This past year was a trying time, especially for Black folks. But this Saturday, Northwestern’s first-ever Virtual Black Formal: Homecoming Edition invites students to leave behind the stress to get dressed up and have fun.
Though NU Black Formal began only as recently as 2017, the impact of this event on the Black community at Northwestern has been substantial. The first Black Formal was planned and executed by a group of seniors who wanted to provide a formal celebration for Black students that wasn’t affiliated with any Black greek organization or existing student groups. Now an official organization, it annually undertakes one of the largest and most attended events on campus.
“This is just a time at the end of the year to make community and celebrate our Blackness together,” says senior Malik Kareem, a Black Formal exec member.
Last year the spring formal, “The Fourth Edition,” was canceled due to Covid-19. However, this year’s exec team of six students is working hard to embody the same spirit as the in-person event over a virtual setting. Disconnection from the campus community wrought by the pandemic helped inspire the theme: “Homecoming.”
“By definition, ‘homecoming’ is the fact of a person arriving home after being away for a long time,” says senior and exec member Mikayla Williams. “We’ve all been separated in this pandemic, literally and figuratively. This formal is a way for us to come together as a community after a long period of separation and celebrate.”
In hopes of including as many students as possible while limiting Zoom fatigue, the exec team has designed an activity-filled hybrid production to keep guests engaged. Throughout the week, Black Formal has partnered with student groups Afrothunda, CaribNation, Stitch and the Black Mentorship Program for dance challenges, a Spotify playlist, makeup tutorials and a watch party of Beyonce’s Homecoming.
Programming includes a broadcast with a live DJ, alumni guest speakers, as well as opportunities for students to have their pictures taken outside of Norris. At the same time, there will be a Zoom webinar set up for people to watch the formal happening in real-time. Students can look forward to giveaways with gift cards and prizes, superlatives like “Best Drip” and “Most Talented” announced throughout the night and student performances by acapella group Soul4Real and second-year musician Rhome.
Although the end result may look effortless, the outcome is the hard work of a few students passionate about enhancing the campus experience of Black students. Beginning in the fall, the executive team negotiates with administration, organizes the off-campus venues, coordinates music and vendors, and fundraises upwards of $10,000 to make one night happen.
All this effort is worth it to exec member and junior Sierra Turner, who says to host the Black Formal is especially significant at a predominantly white school. To her, the Black Formal seemed a “space where black people could just live and exist… A lot of schools don’t have something like that, so I think it’s something that’s really unique and special to our experience.”
Senior Cleon Beckford says he can count on Black Formal to provide that much-needed Black space. “It’s important for Black students to have a place to have fun and be themselves and not have to worry about anything other than being entertained and taking some fire pictures,” he said.
Even in its adapted state, the Black Formal team hopes to elicit feelings of unity and joy amongst Black students and host a night to remember.
NU Black Formal occurs Saturday, May 15, from 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. CST. Find their linktr.ee to register for the webinar, photoshoot times, and more. linktr.ee/NUBlackFormal. For updates, follow @NUBlackFormal on Instagram. If would like to send your Black Formal photos for a photo story email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.