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Mungano still striving for strong community

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Editors Note: This is the first in a series to celebrate black history month that will look into influence and achievement from Baker University’s black community throughout campus history.

Baker University’s multicultural organization, Mungano, has been ever-present and changing since its introduction to the campus in the 1970s, yet the group’s ideals of unity through education have remained much the same.

Mungano Wa Wanafunzi Weuzi, roughly translated from Swahili as “the coming together of black people,” was initiated as a black student union on Baker’s campus in 1969 and was officially recognized by the university as a student organization in 1970. Since that time, the group has evolved from focusing on organizing the black student population to focusing on promoting multiculturalism as a whole throughout the Baker community.

Still, the similarities between Mungano’s members have been evident throughout the group’s history.

University Archivist Brenda Day, who was a student at Baker during the ’70s, said she has found it interesting that Mungano’s members in recent years often carry out the traditional activities carried out by the group’s founders decades ago.

“The movies they show, the speakers and the activities they do mirror those of what Mungano originally did,” she said.

The university’s archives leave much to the imagination of what accomplishments and activities Mungano has completed as an organization throughout the years, though they include evidence of its constant activity since its initiation. The group’s files include a multitude of activity fliers and programs, as well as letters to and from the group’s leaders and the university administration, but little in the way of official minutes from meetings and few clips of published news from student media.

Day explained that the reason for much of the lacking information is simply the mentality of the group as it was very active throughout the years and especially during its first decade. She said because Mungano’s members were so busy with getting people together and organizing activities, they took little time to document what was happening.

“They didn’t note it,” Day said. “Part of what makes it so hard to write about what’s going on is that they were too busy working. They were too busy saying ‘We want to make our own path’ that they didn’t know enough to know if they were supposed to fail.”

Day said the atmosphere of the nation had an impact on Mungano’s roots as the civil rights movement continued to shape the country’s ideals of integration and equal rights.

She said Mungano organized constant progressive speakers and activities to educate as well as entertain the Baker community.

She said the energy that accompanied the group and the Baker community was very exciting to experience firsthand. Today, she said, she finds that apathy and loss of direction seem to have dulled the enthusiasm of all student organizations on campus.

“It seems that the students are trying to get back to that place again and yet don’t seem to know where to start,” she said.

These days, Mungano members are taking a new approach to addressing unity and social progression through educating the community about different cultures and ideals but are still borrowing from the strategy of their founders.

Kelly Vaughan, president of Mungano and an active member since 2004, said the group organizes traditional Mungano activities, including movie nights and date auctions, while bringing in new ideas over the years.

“As the years go on we continue those things that work, and we’re making new traditions as we go,” Vaughan said.

She said the purpose of Mungano has fluctuated throughout the years and that the focus of the group now is to recognize multiculturalism by examining different cultures and heritages each month.

Mungano has sponsored monthly activities designed to celebrate Asian, Native American and Hispanic heritage and others such as black history month and women’s history.

While some activities have remained the same since the group’s initiation, others have changed with the group’s broader mission of multiculturalism.

Vaughan said Mungano still enjoys group activities such as visiting churches to experience gospel choirs and its annual Candle Light Vigil to pass on traditions to new officers. In Mungano’s past, however, Baker boasted its own gospel choir for those events and its Candle Light Vigil was an annual memorial celebration of those who fought and died during the civil rights movement.

Vaughan said events such as the annual Freestyle Battle/Talent Show and poetry readings encourage members and the community to educate themselves about multiculturalism while having fun.

She said Mungano is working to improve alumni relations with its former members in order to keep the group going strong. She said at least 20 alumni are still in active contact with the group, but that keeping alumni relations is a challenge due to lack of contact resources.

“One of the hardest things to do is keep up alumni relations,” she said. “(Because of the lack of information), it’s hard trying to figure out who was there.”

Vaughan said alumni-current member relations are still improving though, as many members participate in the alumni barbecue event, and recent as well as older alumni, such as Jesse Milan, former assistant professor of education for which the Milan-Harris Award for Promoting Diversity is named, continue to support the group.

She said another one of the most difficult challenges Mungano faces is keeping members active.

“The hardest thing is keeping a steady amount (of active members),” she said. “This year we have fewer active members. About 40-50 people are registered, but only about 15-20 show up at meetings.”

Still, Vaughan said she felt like this is a building time for Mungano and that the group is working hard to couple its own activities with trying to support other organizations and activities on campus.

In March, Mungano will be working with Baker’s Women’s Programs and Initiatives to educate the community about women’s rights and history. Vaughan said similar cooperative activities will continue throughout the year.

Meanwhile, Mungano members are working on activities for February, which is black history month.

The Freestyle Battle/Talent Show will be held Feb. 9. The group will sponsor a soul food dinner Feb. 25, and the annual Gospel Extravaganza will be rescheduled for April.

Vaughan said Mungano’s ambition is to educate members and the community about diversity.

“Our biggest goal is to one, educate ourselves,” she said. “We try to get a multicultural effort. It’s about educating while still having fun.”

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