Large number of students expected to attend annual Donning of Kente

The annual Donning of Kente Celebration of Achievement, set for 5 p.m. Thursday, April 30, is expected to involve the largest number of African and African American spring degree candidates in the history of the celebration at MU.

“Approximately 70 African and African American students will attend, having pending degrees from all university colleges and the School of Medicine,” said Maurice Cooley, associate vice president of intercultural affairs.

Donning of Kente takes place this year in the Joan C. Edwards Performing Arts Center. Burnis Morris, the Carter G. Woodson Professor of Journalism and Mass Communications, will be the keynote speaker.

Morris said he accepted the offer to speak in order to promote Woodson’s work and prevent a few people from leaving Marshall without knowing him. Woodson is known as the “Father of Black History.”

“As a participant in this effort to remember Woodson, I accepted Mr. Cooley’s invitation to speak in order to spread the gospel, so to speak, and so that more people would learn about Woodson’s work and use him as inspiration,” Morris said. “Perhaps this discussion of Woodson will spark interest in several of (the graduates) who may be interested in helping us preserve his name at Marshall and in Huntington.”

Cooley said he hopes the large number of graduates will attract an equally large number of community members to the event.

“The degree of interest in participating in this rich tradition among our students and faculty appears to expand each academic year,” Cooley said. “It is open to all, and we sincerely hope that citizens of our local and campus community will attend this unique ceremony. Everyone is welcome, indeed.”

The Kente was developed in 17th century A.D. by the Ashanti people of Africa and, as a visual art form with great symbolism, is reserved for special occasions, Cooley said.

The traditional and historical event is presented by the Center for African American Students. The celebration and cap-and-gown ceremony will commence with a processional that will include graduating students, university deans and  Interim President Gary White.

The ceremony takes place each spring for African and African American students who graduated from Marshall during the winter and those slated for graduation in May or during the coming summer school term.

The Kente cloth, which resembles a stole and is worn with the academic regalia, is a symbol of accomplishment that has its roots in a long tradition of weaving in West African countries. Marshall instituted the tradition of presenting Kente cloths to graduating African American students several years ago.

Cooley said the Donning of the Kente Celebration of Achievement is one of the most prestigious and culturally significant events in which Marshall’s African and African American students can participate.

The Marshall African Dance and Drum Ensemble, directed by Steve Hall, associate professor of music, will provide music for the event. A reception in the Memorial Student Center lobby will follow.