UI’s ‘Borderless: An All Black Affair’ showcased artists and celebrated Black culture

The University of Iowa’s ‘Borderless: An All Black Affair’ event celebrated Black excellence in the arts and built community around Black culture.


Stella Shipman

Isaac Addai, event director and performing rapper (left), posed for a portrait with Dajzané Meadows-Sanderlin, assistant stage manager and performing reciter (right), at Borderless: An All Black Affair on the evening of Wednesday, Sep. 7.

Stella Shipman, Arts Reporter

Blue stage lights set the Alan MacVey auditorium aglow as nearly every seat filled for Borderless: An All Black Affair on Sept. 7.

Dressed in sharp all-black outfits, students arrived at the Theatre Building from every corner of the University of Iowa campus to watch the performances of talented Black artists.

Borderless: An All Black Affair is a student-organized event celebrating Black excellence in the arts, and every performance of the night was indeed excellent, if not outstanding. Hosted by Arabia Parkey and Mikey Taylor, the show featured a wide variety of acts, like dancing, singing, rapping, and poetry.

Each of the nine acts was particularly unique. Some aimed more to get the audience moving or doubling over with laughter, while others intended to address serious issues. Regardless, every act was a powerful immersion in Black culture.

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The event began with a reading by Caroline Clay, introducing the artistry of the showcase. Musician Braxton Jones followed, singing smooth jazz songs, including Etta James’ “At Last,” followed by comedian Emanuel Leadon who performed stand-up.

Leadon, a first-year graduate student at the UI, performed his stand-up comedy routine at Borderless for only the second time in his life — the crowd loved it. Leadon, originally from Dallas, Texas, shared his feelings about the event.

“It was really nice, above all, just to see our people just relax, just relax. As simple as that,” Leadon said.

Between Black trivia, song association, and a step routine featuring host Taylor, the remaining acts took to the stage. Garin Clinton-Nelson and Garianna Clinton-Nelson performed a hip hop dance routine, while artist Glenn “Kurr-is” Waters rapped original songs.

A beautiful lyrical jazz routine by Talia Howard followed, and then musician Kabedi Mutamba sang sultry renditions of pop songs like Billie Eilish’s “happier than ever.” Isaac Addai rapped a few powerful songs from his own album before the showcase closed with spoken word by Stephen Willis that earned him a standing ovation.

The original idea for the Borderless event traveled from California to Iowa with its curator and one of its performers, Isaac Addai, a second-year graduate student in the MFA program at the UI. He had organized Borderless at his previous institution in California.

“When I got here last year, I wanted to do it, but I didn’t really have any pull and I was also a first year. I didn’t know anybody to make it happen,” Addai said.

As a second-year, he made connections that allowed him to move forward with the Borderless event and partner with Afro House to make it happen. Addai explained his intentions of organizing this event on a predominantly white campus like the UI’s, where white culture has inherently set most standards.

“I wanted to kind of fight against those standards, especially in a theater space,” Addai said. “It’s hard to have events where I feel like people like me, who look like me, can really hang out and not feel like we have to put on this front in order to enjoy art.”

Borderless is a series curated by the UI Theatre Department to bring students together in a space where they could be themselves. It is crucial for Black students to have places on campus where they feel safe and seen; Borderless provided one of those places, as well as an opportunity to exhibit artistry within the Black community.

“It was good seeing only African Americans perform because we have so much talent to showcase,” said first-year Jaryn Houston, who had not realized how many Black students were on campus before attending Borderless. Her friend, fellow freshman Brooklyn Taylor, agreed.

“I think it builds community, and it also makes the African American people here feel like they’re supported,” Taylor said. “Like they’re not alone.”

Editor’s note: Arabia Parkey previously worked as a news reporter for The Daily Iowan.