Through the Crystal Glass
How often do you attend a Black Tie gala that is catered specifically to you?
Where you see reflections of yourself in not just the entertainment, but in the addresses, too. And when you look to your left and right, the guests and the overall experience reflect the excellence you know within your own community.
I’ve been to a myriad of Black Tie events, and funnily enough, have almost always been one of two Black people in the room. It’s safe to say, those events weren’t catered to me. Relatable?
My first experience at a Skin I’m In gala was in 2014. I was 22.
In the (seeming) nightmare of my early twenties, the gala provided an unfamiliar experience that wasn’t terrifying.
I looked through crystal glasses at Doctors, Lawyers, Business Owners, Community Leaders and a myriad of other earned titles. People who looked like me, but weren’t confined to the same narratives and confines that I had placed upon myself. Presenting a catalogue of avenues that I too could excel in. But what I saw immediately and most notably to me at the time – was enjoyment. For the first time in a long time, being Black was not exhausting, nor a daily uphill battle. It was indulgent in success, laughter and elegance.
Fast forward to 2018, it’s been quite the year and we find ourselves in (very) divided times. For this year’s Skin I’m In gala, Debra Ojumu put together an evening of classic luxury under the theme ‘One Diaspora’. In collaboration with design house Studio Badu, every touch point of the event – from first mention on Social Media to the printed ticket I received in the mail, was designed to connect with me. And so too, to connect me with other people living and striving within their excellence.
My expectations were high. Really, really high. I remember the feelings of elation from my first gala experience.
I’ve craved that experience since, and have only tasted it briefly while overseas on a few occasions.
This year’s gala was held at the Grand Hyatt. As soon as you reached the top of the escalator, you were sure you were in the right place. Elegance met us from every corner of the room. A commitment to excellence, Black excellence is required to have made it this far. And every single person in that room with ticket in hand, honoured their commitment.
Now, at 25, I looked around a room full of people, across beautifully set tables and crystal glasses. I saw reflections of myself in every corner. I saw opportunity, responsibility and the comfort of familiarity, in a room made up equally of strangers and friends. I laughed to myself about the amount of head nods I saw throughout the evening. Particularly from Black women, to Black women. Demonstrations of respect and acknowledgement of each other’s journey, and brilliance.
MC’d by the always radiant Kemi Nekvapil, the energy in the room was orchestrated by her eloquence and charisma.
Silence crept up on us during the screening of the short film ‘I am Black & Beautiful’ by Hawanatu Bangura. Fluid movements and synchronised bodies on screen brought on a meditative attentiveness.
We listened intently with glasses in hand while Ade Hassan, Founder and Director of Nubian Skin gave the keynote address. Ade told us of laughable moments in her journey and triumphs alike. I felt heard, without having uttered a single syllable. It felt almost like a promise to young Black women everywhere – we won’t let the world forget you, anymore.
Brazilian-born artist and entertainer Dany Maia brought the merry to the feast while her band curated the backing track to our fine dining experience. International comedian B Phlatt took to the stage and evoked tears of laughter, teetering always on the edge of appropriateness. And lastly, the Mai Sisters closed the evening on classics and riddims.
Please note, the entertainment lineup was made up entirely of Black Girl Magic. And to those who say that it cannot be done, step to the side while we do it ourselves.
There was one moment in particular that spoke to me, bringing me back to that first gala experience in 2014. Debra’s speech touched on global movements that have spearheaded pop culture, like #MeToo and #TimesUp. With a mere inflection of voice, the audience was brought to silence. We sat in deep thought about the Black women who have been a beacon of light, bringing greater issues to the surface, with relentless courage. We sat alongside old friends, familiar faces and new connections alike. A broad spectrum of genders, multiple generations, and many nationalities; all sat together, dined together, cried, laughed and danced, together.
We’re reminded that we’re stronger when we stand together. We’re reminded that businesses are built with communities in mind. We’re reminded that laughter really is the best medicine. And we left elated, prideful, and ready to meet challenging moments with grace. Knowing always, we belong to one diaspora.