On Thursday, the Missouri Western chapter of the NAACP hosted ‘To Be Black or Black-ish,’ a program designed to educate people about the black experience.

The event was attended by six people in Spratt 201. Eric Toliver, President of the Western NAACP and host of the event, emphasized being genuine about yourself throughout the event.

“My goal for ‘To Be Black or Black-ish’ is to educate people that you don’t have to put on a front. If it’s not you, don’t put on an act. If you are white and you ‘act black,’ let that be you. Don’t pretend or try to put on a black face if that’s not who you truly are,” Toliver said.

Major themes that occurred throughout the event included understanding the black experience and stereotyping. LaChelle Billups, a former Missouri Western student who attended the event believes that stereotypes are misleading.

“I feel like every black person’s experience is different,” Billups said. “We’re so diverse, and I honestly believe we can adapt to anything. A message for what the stereotypical black person is would be not the stereotype, because the color of your skin shouldn’t define you or your experience. It’s more of a cultural thing. I can be black, but I can be Muslim. I can be black, but I can be Christian. I can be black but do a number of things.”

Billups believes this stereotyping also has a generally negative connotation.

“I feel like it’s a stigma that’s attached to all black people: uneducated, doesn’t work hard, or if they are in college, athletics. It’s not brains,” Billups said.

Stephanie Riggins, a senior at Missouri Western and attendee of the event says that people can’t fully understand the black experience without experiencing it themselves.

“You can’t share a message, because you can’t tell someone what it is to be black unless they are black,” Riggins said.

This event was intended to educate people about these problems among others. Toliver says that his event sought to teach everyone.

“The benefit of this event, just like any event that the NAACP, the Black Student Union, or the Center for Multicultural Education does for Black History Month is to educate everybody – not just black people, not just white people, even the international students – on the importance of black history and the contributions that people of color have made not just in the United States, but across the world,” Toliver said.

Billups feels that asking questions and having an open dialogue is a good way to address some of these issues.

“I think it’s beneficial, because you won’t know unless you ask,” Billups said “And that’s just me as a person. I hate to assume. Just like I don’t know everything it is to be a white American, and you might have your different views on life, and your different struggles on life, and I may view them as not being  struggles at all, but in your reality, your truth, this is a struggle for you. So I don’t think there’s anything wrong with asking questions and having an open dialogue.”

In light of the low attendance, Toliver urges students to keep an eye out for future events hosted by black organizations on campus.

“Stay tuned for more events put on by the various black organizations on campus,” Toliver said. “Whether it’s the NAACP, the BSU, any of the black fraternities or sororities, or even the Center for Multicultural Education, come out and attend because we don’t just put on these events for people of color. We put them on for everybody.”