Spring 2009: Campus Beat

Head Stepmaster Michael Tseng 12C on stage

Heads up: “I was locked up once, and I was looking down,” Tseng says. “Then one of the old BAM members said, ‘Look up, because you’re a proud man.’ ”

Jay Opalia/Special

Stepping up for Awareness

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By Franchesca Winters 10C

In April 1990, Sabrina Collins came home to her Longstreet dorm room to find her clothing soaked with bleach, and racist messages scrawled across her walls in lipstick. Soon after, the black Emory freshman received death threats in the mail.

Or so she said.

A statewide investigation deemed the alleged hate crime a hoax a few months later, but its impact on the Emory community was anything but inauthentic. In the wake of that incident, students banded together to raise cultural awareness on campus.

The Black Student Alliance received a flood of fresh support, a chapter of the NAACP took root at the University, and members of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity founded a volunteer organization and step team known as the Brotherhood of Afrocentric Men (BAM).

“BAM was first created to help African Americans on campus unite,” Herschel Smith 12C, the group’s president, says. “It was around the time when racism was kind of on the edges of Emory.”

Since the group’s inception, BAM has encouraged students of varied ethnicities to discuss and embrace a worldview that stresses the importance of African culture.

“Afrocentricity is just seeing the world from an African perspective. It’s not necessarily being African American, but it’s seeing things from the view of Africa and African Americans,” says Head Stepmaster Michael Tseng 12C, who choreographs the team’s routines.

To spread awareness of that perspective at Emory and throughout Atlanta, BAM performs service projects, such as weekly trips to the Boys and Girls Club, and cosponsors cultural performances.

Despite a culturally specific moniker and mission, BAM, which is composed almost entirely of freshmen, does not limit its membership by race or ethnicity. The group also chooses not to affiliate itself with a Greek organization, even though its founding fathers were fraternity brothers, and the step team welcomes potential members without the stress of official auditions. By refraining from activities that emphasize exclusivity, BAM strives to represent the diversity of Emory’s student body.

“We don’t exclude people,” Smith says. “When we perform, people say, ‘Oh, the Brotherhood of Afrocentric Men, but they have Asians and they’ve got Caucasians. They’ve got everybody up there. This is a pretty good program.’ And then more people are like, ‘Hey, I want to do that.’ ”

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