BY KALISHA MENDONSA
Burman University Assistant Dean Brent van Rensburg says this weekend’s Gospel Extravaganza is going to be a ground-breaking event in writing Lacombe’s diversity and inclusion dialogue.
van Rensburg said the event is a way to promote inclusion, celebrate Black History Month and bridge the connection among different cultures in Lacombe. The event will open its doors at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday at the College Heights Seventh-Day Adventist Church on the Burman University campus.
Performances will be shared by New Season of Praise, One Word, Onefaith Muzic, Endless Praise, the Burman Gospel Choir and many more guests.
The event is free to enter, with a free-will offering that will be made available, and refreshments will be on sale.
“This is the first time for the school to host an event like this. What excites me about this, besides catering to the culture that we have on our campus, is that I want our community and surrounding area to come onto our campus and learn who we are as Burman university. I want people to celebrate with us,” van Rensburg said excitedly.
“This is about more than celebrating Black History Month – it’s also about celebrating unity of the community.”
He said the event is a great way to invite members of the community onto the campus, while showcasing the amazing talents of Alberta students celebrating their cultures through music.
Shannon Long, president of the Canadian Association of Adventists in Alberta (CAAA), said the event is important for both partnering agencies, and that she is thoroughly looking forward to emceeing the event.
“This concert is a really great thing, both for CAAA and Burman. We’ve come together as partners to put on this event to promote black culture and black history with the talents that we have, because we’ve got lots,” Long said.
“We’ve got students from Edmonton and Calgary and our surrounding area that have a lot of talent, as well.”
She added that another major part of this event is to bring community together and especially help to connect students who may be away from friends and family to Lacombe and the surrounding area.
As well, Long said it is important to be able to celebrate black culture with the Central Alberta community in order to bridge a divide that sadly still stands in some places.
“It doesn’t matter what cultural background you are from – we just want people to come out. We want people from Lacombe and surrounding areas to help us break down barriers in the community. We need to bridge the gap between the people who look at us as different. We are people first,” Long said with passion.
“When we are able to share the language of music, and the language of love, we start to break down the barriers. From there, you’re able to build relationships. This event is the first of its kind, but hopefully there will be more to come.”
van Rensburg agreed with Long’s perspective on the need to bridge the divide among cultures in Central Alberta, and to allow people to engage in a medium that transcends culture, race and background – music.
“Even today, I run into a lot of people who don’t know the University exists on the hill-top, but secondly, a lot of people who don’t know how to interact with me,” van Rensburg said.
“This concert is a chance to interact with each other, get to know our individual cultures. We are all Canadian, but we get to explore what makes us different in terms of traditional cultural aspects.”
van Rensburg is from Cape Town, South Africa and explained he grew up during apartheid.
The experiences he gained as a young black man in a historically un-welcoming place have helped him to grow firm in his willingness to be open and share experiences of all cultures, regardless of how a person looks, speaks or where they were born.
“For me this is totally amazing,” van Rensburg said.
“When we were choosing our student association president, she had a dream and I had a dream. That dream was unity in diversity. For this concert to happen now, this is almost full circle for me. This is part of that dream coming through.”
van Rensburg said there will be more events to come in 2017 that will help to guide Lacombe’s diversity into a space of a more welcoming nature, where many cultures are embraced and celebrated.
“Sometimes I wish I could speak to people who act in a racist or ignorant manner, but usually it happens so quickly,” van Rensburg said, adding that hopefully, this concert will bridge some of the differences in culture and allow people to find some common ground through the praise and the music that will be shared on Saturday.
Both he and Long agree that the event should draw quite a crowd, especially given the diverse talent and exciting nature of the gospel celebration. The two said it is a way for people to become less divided, and hopefully engage in more honest conversation around the black community’s inclusion in Lacombe.
“For my whole career, I was the only one who looked like me at many tables. I want to see employment and opportunities for our young people in the community, and for those students to feel recognized and included,” Long said.