TRAVERSE CITY — A first-of-its-kind festival meant to immerse attendees in cultures of color is set for Feb. 21-24 on the campus of Northwestern Michigan College.
The BSUFest is sponsored by the Black Student Union and will feature music, food, workshops and more, said Maya James, president of the BSU.
The event is a fundraiser for an endowed scholarship the organization hopes to establish that will be administered through the NMC Foundation. The group has set a goal of $25,000.
"We hope this event can not only lift up the local and regional communities of color, but can expose our community to a positive black cultural experience and reduce the amount of racially-based hate crimes on and off campus," James said.
NMC has no reported hate crimes for 2015, '16 and '17, according to the Campus Security and Safety Report. A hate crime is defined by the FBI as an offense motivated by the offender's bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or ethnicity/national origin.
But James said hate crimes are on the rise across the nation. FBI statistics show that hate crimes in America rose 17 percent in 2017, the third consecutive year those types of crimes increased.
"We're just trying to make our campus more inclusive," she said.
The first Black Student Union formed in the mid-1960s at San Francisco State University and now has chapters at colleges and universities around the country.
NMC's organization was formed in 2016 and has seven regular members of all backgrounds, including Hispanic, white, black and Native American, James said.
"We all come together to advocate for equal rights," said James, a political science major.
According to NMC demographics for the fall 2018 semester, 1.2 percent of the student population is black, 1.8 percent is American Indian or Alaska Native and 3.5 percent is Hispanic or Chicano.
The BSU aims to provide resources for students of color and to connect them with people of color in the community for things such as mentorship opportunities, James said.
"So we're really a community organization," James said.
Ethnic foods will be served and music is planned for all four days with local DJ Midnight; Toronto rapper Myth; a hip-hop fusion artist and Emilee Petersmark from The Crane Wives.
Domestic violence and sexual assault victims advocate Sequetta Brand, of Kalamazoo, will host a seminar titled "What's Your Why," and members of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians will host another on the importance of native languages.
Students and members of the community can meet with potential mentors invited to campus during the event.
"It's an opportunity for students to make connections and for people to reach out and access a more diverse career path," James said.
Artists are being asked to submit their work to be sold at two independent art shows — the Native Art Market on Feb. 22 and the Black Art Market on Feb. 24. Both are scheduled from 6-8 p.m. in the south lobby of the Okerstrom Fine Arts Building.
Vendors can choose to donate their artwork, but it's not a requirement, James said.
A schedule of events is being finalized and will be posted at the Northwestern Michigan Black Student Union page on Facebook.
A fundraiser for BSUFest is being held from 4-6 p.m. Friday in the East Hall basement with crockpot dishes and desserts served. The cost is $13 per person or $20 for two.