Saturday, October 16th, The Black Lives Matter Seacoast Chapter (BLMS) held their second annual gala celebrating Black excellence and over one year of being established.
The Black Excellence Gala was held at Saltonstall Farm in Stratham, NH. The night began at 6:00 pm and throughout the night, there were various performances and a keynote speaker. The hosts of the event were Yasmin Salerno, a junior at Phillips Exeter Academy, and Saniyah Bolton, a sophomore at Exeter High School. Salerno and Bolton are the co-directors of the BLMS youth division. The event was an open tip bar with free coffee and tea donated by 7North Coffee Co., Exeter, NH, Vinilandia Wine Distributors, Portsmouth, NH, and Chapel + Main Brewpub, Dover, NH. Throughout the night, raffle tickets and merchandise were sold to raise money for BLMS. To learn more about what BLMS does and what they stand for, check out another MOR article “Black Lives Matter Seacoast Working to End Racial Inequalities” here.
Tanisha Johnson, BLMS co-founder and one of the many planners of the event, spoke about the meaning of the gala, saying, “this is our event to fundraise and celebrate Black excellence.” BLMS is a non-profit organization so they run off of events like the BLM Gala for donations. For fundraising, they charged for admission, had several raffle prizes, including a massage and restaurant gift cards. They also sold tee shirts and tote bags all throughout the event. Many of the guests who were not part of the organization came to show their support and donate throughout the night.
The first performance of the night was by The Blueprint Project. The Blueprint Project is inspired by the speech “What Is Your Life Blueprint?” given by Martin Luther King Jr. in 1967. The project is a compilation of personal stories and is run by Deo Mwano. It was the winner of the 2021 Diversity Film and Script Showcase, where creators from around the country competed for recognition for their work. One of the people showcased in the project was Millicent Alhamis, who performed an interpretive dance during the gala that represented how she felt to not be recognized because of her race. “I don’t normally do the dance I did, so this was just a great different experience for me.” Other members of the project showcased interpretive dances of their feelings on the COVID-19 pandemic, sang about being laid off, and rapped about advocating for social justice.
Following The Blueprint Project, the keynote speaker, Grace Kindeke, spoke. This past May, Kindeke became a U.S. citizen after 32 years. Since then she had made a name for herself as the Program Coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee, NH. She is also the Project Coordinator for Manchester Community Action Coalition. Kindeke spoke about her losses this past year, as well as what the country can do to make a change. “We cannot undo the past, but we can repair the present right here, right now. That’s what we have the power to do.” Kindeke’s speech was followed by a Jamaican meal provided by Island Spice Corner, York, ME.
Before guests went up to get their dinner, Reverend (Robert) Thompson from Sovereign Souls Fellowship Church said a prayer for everyone, blessing the food. The catering provided by Island Spice Corner store consisted of several dishes including Jamaican Rice and Peas, pasta salad, Jamaican patties, and much more. Following dinner was the last performance of the night by hip-hop artist, Akrobatik, who is a multi-time Boston Music Award winner. He sang some of his hit songs and concluded his performance with a freestyle rap about racial inequality.
Once the performances ended, guests were able to mingle amongst themselves and connect with others. “The energy here is great. This is one of the best events I have been to in New Hampshire and I have been to a lot of events,” said Emmet Soldati, activist and owner of Teetotaller, a queer-friendly cafe in Somersworth, NH. Soldati raved about the event, speaking about how it is a great opportunity to meet people with the same views who you may have never met before.
The gala was not only a great opportunity to meet like-minded others, but it was also a chance to show support for BLMS. The volunteers at the gala felt strongly about the meaning behind the event. Volunteer at the merchandise booth, Erin Allgood said, “I don’t think there is enough awareness around racial equity. People think that, because we are in a liberal area, we don’t have those types of issues.” She went on to say that she is friends with co-founder Clifton West and became connected with BLMS through him. She volunteered at the gala to show her support for him and the organization.
At the end of the event, co-founders West and Johnson said some final words thanking the sponsors of the event including Phillips Exeter Academy, Cup of Joe, and Reproductive Freedom Fund of NH. An annual event since the birth of the organization, the Black Excellence Gala has become a tradition for not only their organization but for Seacoast communities that come from all over the state to celebrate together. With the willingness of donors and sponsors, BLMS will continue their gala tradition next year. With their donations from the past year, they have donated $50,000 back to the community like the Youth Mental Fun and initiative. To donate to BLMS go to https://www.blmseacoast.com/donate, where they accept all donations through ActBlue.