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ONYX, AN ALL-BLACK male a cappella group that I started last year with five other friends, performed its last concert on April 17. As the last words of "Hard to Say Goodbye" floated through Paine Hall, I knew that I had just closed the book on a truly unique experience.
At a time when conservatives around the country decry the racial and ethnic balkanization of America's college campuses, I think that Onyx brought out many of the positive aspects of diversity. Onyx showed that different groups can learn about each other in ways that do not involve name calling and ethnic cheerleading.
It may seem ironic to argue for diversity by using a group made up exclusively of African-American males. Yet, as a unit, Onyx brought a new voice to the spectrum of campus singing groups. Judging from the support we received from the Harvard community over the past two years, Onyx had a special cross-gender, cross-cultural, cross racial appeal.
LOOKING OUT into the crowd during our final show, I saw the kind of diversity which Harvard's admissions office brags about in glossy brochures but which rarely manifests itself in a social setting. There were Blacks, whites, Asians, Latinos, young and old, all there because the music spoke to them in some significant way.
For some, the gospel element of our repertoire was the most enjoyable. After the performance, many commented on the power and spirituality of these great Negro songs, born out of the pain and oppression of a proud people. You did not have to be Black to understand. You did not have to be a Christian to understand. By the presence of the three French women whom I met after the concert, I gather that you did not even have to speak English. The message in the music transcends such bounds.
For others, the secular songs that we performed represented something new (and "fresh" or "dope," if you will). The lyrics were often as meaningless as anything that you would hear on Kiss 108 or WZOU, but it didn't seem to matter. The most important thing was they were fun. Imagine that--something at Harvard that Makes you happy.
While authors like Dinesh D'Souza would have us believe that constructive cross-cultural interaction is impossible on campus these days because students are preoccupied with their own particular agendas, my experience with Onyx strengthens my conviction that he is absolutely wrong.
ONYX WAS CREATED by six young Black men (two of whom graduated last year) who sought to express themselves musically. We sang exactly what we wanted to. Our songs were products of our individual life experiences and personal tastes.
The result was music by, and often about, Black people. The gospel music, especially, detailed the strength and resiliency of a proud, courageous people. But the most important thing is that the music was not just for Black people.
The Message, like any enduring wisdom, could be heard by all who were willing to listen. Non-Blacks did not view Onyx as something they could not appreciate. Women did not think of our songs as only for men. People could relate to our material because we sang about things that everyone experiences: love, pain, sprirtuality and fellowship.
For these reasons, I believe that Onyx represented the promise of multiculturalism. Rather than trying to advance a political agenda, we wanted to share the experiences which have informed our thought and culture. That is the essence of cultural exchange and the value of campus diversity.
Onyx has shown that difference can be presented in a constructive manner. I hope that other will employ similarly engaging and creative methods to carry on this tradition.
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