Being Black at Wake Forest

Being Black at Wake Forest

Dear First-Years, 

Famed Painter Wassily Kandinsky said, “Color is a power which directly influences the soul.” I could not agree more. I am fairly certain that Kandinsky was referring to the vivid hues in his abstract art, but I think that this quote applies to my experience on Wake Forest’s campus and may also apply to yours. 

In preparation for writing this letter I reflected on my time at Wake Forest and a clear theme of color arose. While the initial weeks of my first year have started to blend together, I can still distinctly reconstruct a few conversations, memories and hues. For example, on one of my first days on campus, my now-best friend offered me a dark flannel to protect my then-pressed hair from a rain shower. Having met through the BUILD pre-orientation program, the color palette of our friendship is a bright one. We connected in the rich green grass behind Collins Residence Hall as she strummed a guitar. We would laugh and bound up the red-brown brick steps to the upper quad to rehash nights of dancing over Subway sandwiches wrapped in white paper speckled with yellow and green. We swung in the blue moonlight, swapping secrets in front of Angelou Residence Hall. Mixed in with these greens and yellows and browns and reds and blues is the most important color in my life: my Blackness. She and I both grew up in the northeast, have moms that worry a little too much, and dads that laugh a little too loud, but one of our most intimate connections is our culture. Two years and one big chop later she and that dark flannel are still constants in my life. And so is color. 

I usually rock black and gold when representing Wake Forest at a conference; I love donning some red lipstick when letting loose to City Girls with my close friends; I have grown to appreciate the deep blue of my service fraternity. These pigments are modes of expression, belonging, identity, but the only common thread in this rainbow tapestry of my life is the Black one. 

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My Blackness is what is noticed before the colors of the Demon Deacon when I stand to speak. My Blackness can bring me in — or all too often keep me out — of social spaces. My Blackness has shaped my role in service and community at Wake. 

First-years, throughout this fall semester you are going to encounter situations, environments and conversations dominated by color. Some are welcome sights, like the fiery orange hues as the trees change with the seasons; the constant gingerbread brown of the Reynolda brick; the deep green of the upper quad. Some are a little more uncomfortable, like the classroom discussions of race; the domination of white greek life; the inexplicable challenge to the rallying cry “Black Lives Matter.”

Despite remaining distant from your fellow Deacons, you will get up close and personal with the palette of Wake Forest. Some hues will represent joy, while others sorrow, but all of them will contribute to the artwork of your first-year experience. And while those pigments and so many others are notable, do not forget the color that is the most important: yours. Safeguard and celebrate it. I encourage you to live boldly. I never had a problem with color (I own several neon eyeliners and a blue lipstick that my mom hates), but it took me a while to be unapologetically Black. Many will encourage you to try and blend into the background, but the best part of Wake Forest is its vibrancy and that comes from you. Light up the campus with your color. 

All love,
Kate Pearson, ‘22

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