Jimmy Purifoy recieved a $750 scholarship at Eastern Michigan University's chapter of The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People held I Am: The Black Male Showcase Sunday evening in the Student Center Ballroom.
"This showcase aims to celebrate and acknowledge our black men in a positive light and eliminate stereotypes that are often associated with black men,” the chapter said in the event description.
The ballroom was filled with chairs, a projector screen and a runway that dominated the middle of the room. Music played on powerful speakers and the lights were dimmed low as the 60 attendees started filing into the room.
The actual show started an hour later. Elizabeth Lange, the president of the EMU chapter of the NAACP introduced a 5 member panel of judges, mostly EMU alumni. Nicole Brown, a member of the Ypsilanti city council, was on the panel.
"I think it went very well,” Lange said. “ The message was conveyed successfully. I think everybody had a great time.”
The show started with a slide show which featured a presentation of black, male students. They walked down the runway and stood while the judges, Ebony Walls and Dar Maywhether, introduced them. The presentation was like a positive civil rights pageant.
They introduced the student, gave some background on their lives, their major and what they like to do in their spare time.
For the talent portion of the night, Darrius Simpson performed a poem that he wrote for the suicide of his friend, two years ago. Simpson is a well established poet and community activist. He received 3rd place for a performance he did in collaboration with Scout Botsley, The Eastern Echo managing editor, for their slam poem Lost Voices, which they performed towards the end of the night. In the first of several poems he performed by himself, Simpson painted a picture of a friend he had lost.
Michael Holmes recited a poem about his disability. Holmes's short poem was about not letting both of his back surgeries keep him from going to college.
"Just because I have a disability, doesn't mean I can't go above and beyond," Holmes said.
Antoine Wyatt was next. His poem was called Black Hopeful. Wyatt was a student athlete who said that sports was a full time job. So, he transferred to be a full time student and activist. Wyatt said he was frustrated with the program and he transferred his "energy into something else and I found theater."
Gerald Purify didn't do a poem. He came on the stage with a white mask and a white glove on. Piano music played softly, and he began to sing. While the record played, he performed an interpretive dance. He got the loudest applause.
Purifoy wore a tuxedo in tails and performed a tap dance and rap. Not just using his feet, he clapped, moved all over the stage, and made different percussions across his body to get his point across. The South Carolina native was raised on a farm and had a pet pig. He talked about the transition from living in the rural south to moving to the urban north.
"I had a pet pig," Purifoy said. "And one day, we had bacon. It was kind of a different experience."
The talent portion got 20% of their scores from that portion. The next station was done by Poetry Slam. Two performers, Darion Ervin and Tiraj Lucas, performed on black identity, civil rights, the Black Lives Matters movement and their own experiences, ending with "I am black and that is always good enough."
In the interview phase, the judges asked several questions to the contestants, one by one. For example, Simpson went first, and he was asked what it means to be a black man in today's America.
"I can't find a definition for a black man because it pulls in so many other directions," said Simpson. "You have to face [...] trying to be yourself and at the same time you're told what you're supposed to be like and [you're] battling that daily. If I battle this, am I still being a product of it because I'm trying not to be like how they say I am? So you have to try and find this middle ground, daily. [...] To be a black man in today is to be in turmoil, I think."
Purifoy was asked "What do you think black Greek life needs to do to re-engage their community?"
"Stop being lazy," Purifoy said. "One thing that I could say is I think that a lot of black Greeks kind of get full of themselves. They lean on the legacies that former members have laid upon them. They don't look at what they can add to the legacy that goes forward and inspire the next generation of those who would join these organizations."
Dr. Eddie Corner gave a keynote speech. The judges also asked the contestants to give messages to their younger selves.
Holmes, for example, said: " Our world is so full of negative people. Always, when you walk into a place, you feel like you're being judged as soon as you walk in. Don't let those people fear you. Don't be afraid to be yourself."
At the end of the contest, the five judges went into deliberation. Then, the five contestants were brought back on stage.
"This was so close,” Lange said. “Literally a point apart.”