NYU is far from a historically black university, but the black experience in New York is truly unlike any other. It’s hard to match the energy of going to a block party in the summer in Harlem, hearing boom-bap bass booming from passing cars, or munching on meat patties from your favorite Jamaican restaurant.
During my two years at NYU, I went out of my way to explore my blackness and womanhood through the school’s many affinity groups: the Black Student Union, the African Students Union, the Black Women’s Organization, Womxn of Excellence. , Strength and Toughness, and more. While these groups were undoubtedly productive, I found myself at an impasse when it came to grappling with the specific intersection between my blackness and my sexuality.
Zuri Alexander, a sophomore at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study, had a similar experience.
“Honestly, I find it a little difficult to find seats for black queer students at NYU,” Alexander said. “My experiences with white gay men support me, but sometimes there’s a layer missing that you get with other black gay men. I know there are black people – they just like to hide.
Although Alexander was able to find smaller black queer circles in Gallatin, she, like many others, was looking for something more authentic and consistent, as the other clubs’ infrequent meetings fostered fewer relationships than she wanted. .
Brown Sugar Brilliance, a club founded by Steinhardt senior Mae Monga but not affiliated with NYU, might be the space Alexander was looking for.
As a member of Generation Z whose formative years coincided with the peak of COVID-19, Monga spent midlife reflecting on her own sexuality and gender while also considering a productive way to express it .
“I was really looking for black queer communities in particular, and so I kind of started going to events that had those identities,” Monga said. “But they were mostly into the nightlife.”
Although queer nightlife has had a rich history, there has been a increasing thrust to extend this visibility during the day. During the pandemic, when the city closed its clubs and bars, there was a demand for other black gay men to gather outside of nightlife.
The main initiative of Brown Sugar Brilliance seems simple: to serve as a place where black queer people can mingle and gather. But there is a deeper meaning beneath the surface: exposing toxic attitudes that can prevent the black community from fully exploring their identity.
As a Nigerian who grew up in the American South, I find the double whammy of toxic masculinity ingrained in both cultures to be an unwinnable game. In my community, women and girls are often caught between an impossible double standard; we are considered too emotional, but demonized if we dare to show it. Emotion equates to weakness – and therefore femininity. Conversely, if a man, the presumed head of the family, cries or is interested in things other than sports or video games, he is forever labeled as insolent.
“We are taught to fear our emotions,” Monga said. “And it just closes us off from the essentials of life.”
Brown Sugar Brilliance rejects this notion, with the club encouraging its members to run the full emotional spectrum.
Black gay men resisted homophobia and racism from a young age, and had to grow up faster and end their childlike wonder earlier. Part of this trend can be attributed to a social process calledadultification”, a phenomenon in which the presumption that black children are older than they actually are can lead to increased discipline, policing, and hypersexualization.
Monga hopes to bring back that youthful spirit, drawing inspiration from his work in Collective Les Temps Divinsa similar black queer initiative that Monga and their friends launched in 2022. The group’s goal was not only camaraderie and celebration, but also rediscover black rituals who have been silenced through centuries of subjugation. For example, Divine Times has hosted candle-making workshops, partnered with Black herbalists to prepare tea blends from various traditional herbs, and collaborated with legendary Black multi-instrumentalist Laraaji for a meditative festival.
As an intense creative who enjoys music and drawing in his free time, Monga emphasized that the purpose of BSB – an extension of Divine Times – is to encourage us to exist as we are and resist the repression that the white heteronormative social pressures.
“It’s not about being good at anything. It’s not about showing off your skills. Honestly, it’s a cathartic experience,” Monga said. “Every event we do, whether it’s a workshop, a jam, or every time we do a festival, is about healing the inner child; just tap into your playful and curious spirit and be like you were a child.
When I attended the first BSB meeting on September 15, I personally felt the gentleness and security Monga described. The sweet scent of gardenia incense greeted me as members peeled tangerines and blew bubbles. We drank ginger ale — the undisputed number one healing drink for black people — while we played “We’re Not Really Strangers,” a talking card game meant to make players feel more personal.
I dove into personal realizations that I hadn’t expressed in a very long time. The other members also shared their stories, between feelings of displacement and self-doubt, which inevitably led the discussion to a discussion about astrology.
Alexander, who attended Brown Sugar Brilliance’s first meeting, noted that the space allowed her to fully express feelings bordering on euphoria, no matter how much white heteropatriarchy tries to repress them.
“Part of what makes us so powerful is how we love each other and how we find community,” Alexander said. “I think black love and joy is magical and I think there is something fundamentally phenomenal about gay people coming together and creating magic.”
Black spirituality and homosexuality have been intertwined throughout history. In traditional Yoruba religion, the main deities are asexual, non-binary entities who guide believers towards inner peace and stability. Precolonial Angolans had same-sex relationships high esteem; they believed that homosexual men held divine female spirits, while women could take the title of husband.
Through Brown Sugar Brilliance, Monga takes steps to reintroduce the relationship between Black ancestral knowledge and the spectrum of sexuality. BSB hopes to work with Black queer food vendors and collaborate with local theaters to host movie nights screening films made by Black queer creatives in the diaspora. They’re also planning more “Park Play Dates” and a Halloween event involving moon circles to realign people with the cycle of the seasons.
With its emphasis on introspection and spirituality, Brown Sugar Brilliance serves as a beacon for NYU’s long-neglected black queer population.
“We just create this environment where people feel like you can be like a child,” Monga said. “I can explore anything, I can do anything. And there is no judgment.
You can find Brown Sugar Brilliance @bsb.nyu on Instagram.
Contact Ekene Onukogu at (email protected).