By Tatyanna Carman
The bright lights, emotion-filled dancing and strong voices of Gospel Fest illuminated the Cavalla Room on Feb. 24 in the Bart Luedeke Center.
Gospel Fest was the closing celebration to a series of events honoring Black History Month, consisting of various gospel performances including music, dance and spoken word. The event was presented by many clubs and organizations including the Black Student Union, Black Men United and the Black Hispanic Alliance.
The audience was filled with Rider students, faculty and visitors of all ages. Some of the visitors were part of the congregation of the churches that performed.
“We know that the population of diverse students is growing and I think that [Gospel Fest] is a free concert that is open to the public and this is a way that we can let people see who we are,” Director of the Center of Diversity and Inclusion, Pamela Pruitt, said.
Pruitt explained that, when she arrived at Rider in 2013, she wanted to bring her experience and success from the Black Gospel Awareness project, a project that brought individuals from ages eight and up from the tri-state area together, to Rider and engage the community.
She also brought in her former colleague, professor Craig Hayes, to be the master of ceremonies from WIMG AM 1300 Radio, a gospel radio station located in Trenton.
What started as a small gathering turned into the 450-seated event that happened on Sunday, Feb. 24.
“I want people to leave with a very good feeling. Not only within themselves, but I want them to leave feeling good about each other and about what they experienced and that Rider is a really good, welcoming home for its students, faculty, staff, alumni and visitors,” Pruitt said.
Gospel Fest began with a warm welcome from Pruitt, who started with “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” Hayes then introduced the event and invited the audience to sing along with the Community Fellowship Mass Choir and Band to the first verse of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by James W. Johnson and John R. Johnson. They also sang “I’ll Trust You” by Richard Smallwood later in the event.
The individual performances came from Nikki Rochelle and junior health sciences major Kiarrah Johnson. Rochelle performed her own two songs, “Loving Me” and “No Shame,” near the middle of the event. Before she started each song, she explained the backstory and inspiration. Johnson performed her own two songs as well, titled “Hey Black Boy” and “Dear Black Woman.” The songs gave appreciation to African-American men and women.
Singers who were part of the Tony Jackson project and the Galilee Baptist Church were uniform in jean jackets, white tops and black bottoms while singing gospel songs.
The Tabernacle Baptist Church Dance Ministry then passionately danced to various songs including a poem written and recited by Maya Angelou, “Still
I Rise.” Their multi-colored African- patterned head scarves contrasted their black clothing. Audience members
closely watched while the dancers moved throughout the aisles, finishing with their fists in the air.
Rider’s Unashamed Gospel Choir sang two songs. “You Waited” by
Travis Greene was conducted by junior musical theater major and secretary of the Unashamed Gospel Choir Patrice Hrabowskie and was sung by senior soloist and accounting major Judeline Borgelia, along with the choir. The second song, “Oh Happy Day” by Edwin Hawkins, was sung by the full choir. According to Hrabowskie, the group started preparing for the event immediately after winter break and began assigning solo performances.
“[Gospel Fest] was definitely a success. I felt the spirit with each performance. I am so glad I can be a part of this event,” Hrabowskie said. “Gospel Fest is very special to me because it comes at a time in the semester when students are stressed and feeling homesick. I always receive peace at this ceremony.”
Throughout the performances, the audience was very responsive with ovation, clapping and shouts of praise.
The event ended with all of the performers singing “Total Praise” by Richard Smallwood. The combination
of voices from each group filled the room and the hearts of those who attended.
“I was delighted to see 450 Rider students and visitors join us for our annual Gospel Fest event. Many commented on how much they enjoyed the program,” Pruitt said. “I am forever grateful to the Black Student Union producer, professor Vinroy D. Brown, Jr., from our Princeton campus, and the Center for Diversity and Inclusion team for their all of their efforts in making Gospel Fest a success.”
The next Gospel Fest is slated to occur on Feb. 23, 2020.
Published in the 2/27/19 edition.