Harlem Nights brings jazz, poetry to Elizabethtown College
Participants gathered on the night of Thursday, Feb. 23, to share creative works from the Harlem Renaissance, a movement of cultural, social and artistic expression in Harlem, New York, during the 1920s.
Harlem Nights is an annual event sponsored by the Mosaic House, which began in 2016. The Mosaic House serves as a gathering place on the Elizabethtown College campus for students of diverse backgrounds and interests and works to provide a welcoming environment for those on campus.
The Mosaic House started Harlem Nights to celebrate historical African-American achievements of the time period.
“I love programs like this because they’re fun, and we just sort of sneak the learning right in there,” said Stephanie Collins, interim director of multicultural programming and residential communities at Elizabethtown College.
While informing participants about the movement and influential figures of the time, the event presented entertaining activities for the audience. Along with a photo booth with props, there was a mocktail bar and bead necklaces and sparkling headwear for participants to wear. A mobile library cart was also available for those present to check out books and music of that time period from the College’s High Library if they wanted to learn more about the movement.
“The Harlem Renaissance is one of the most influential and positive points in African-American history,” said Collins. “When we talk about really educating students on the real history of America, we want to hit on that cultural aspect.”
The event featured several musical performances and readings throughout the night.
Collins and Josh Cohen, the College’s instruction and outreach librarian, read works by Langston Hughes, including “I Dream a World” and “Nothing But A Dog.” Langston Hughes was an African-American poet during the movement.
Musical performances included E-town first-year students Lauren Shakes singing “Summertime” and Shaelah Best singing “Bye Bye, Blackbird.” Both songs were originally sung by Ella Fitzgerald, an African-American entertainer during the movement.
“Jazz is a part of me that I don’t really show a lot of people,” said Best. “My first semester, I was a music education major so I was classically trained. I used to perform classical music, but … when I write music, most of it is jazz.”
E-town senior Kimberly Kim said that Harlem Nights served as an important learning tool for the campus.
After starting at E-town, Kim said she realized that many of her fellow classmates did not know many figures from the Harlem Renaissance who helped to shape America’s history. “So, people that aren’t fortunate enough to take these kinds of history classes in school, get a chance to [learn] now,” said Kim.
“This is an annual event that we do because a lot of students don’t get the full story when they’re learning African-American history.” —Stephanie Collins
Harlem Nights provided a space for participants to be able to discuss matters of race in a safe environment. “It’s just nice to know that there’s a place on campus…where we can be comfortable talking about our own reality,” said Best.
“I think it’s really important for people to understand that all of our programs are open to everyone,” said Collins. “We really hope that we get a large amount of students that can interact with the things that we’re talking about. This isn’t for anyone specific; this is really a learning opportunity for everyone.”
E-town NOW guest writer is Taylor Miles — Miles is a writer, designer and photographer in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and a senior at Elizabethtown College studying English Professional Writing, graphic design and communications. Miles is art director of the Elizabethtown College literary and arts magazine and a teaching assistant for the digital photography course at the College. She enjoys drinking tea, playing the violin and caring for her rabbit and plants.