ASAC’s vibrant presence

How the African Student Association of Concordia is fostering community

ASAC Game Attendees playing Tug of War Photo Dorothy Mombrun

The African Student Association of Concordia (ASAC) serves as both a sense of familiarity and home for African international students and local Black students alike.

When asked how members would describe ASAC, all seem to muster the same sentiment towards the association: family, community and home. 

In an environment where many Black and Afro-descendant students feel they are a minority, ASAC serves as a home away from home, and as a hub of relatability for other Black students who do not see much of themselves represented when sitting in a classroom.

ASAC is an initiative that began in the late 1980s to represent the African diaspora at the university. It has been decorated as one of Concordia’s most popular associations and has received various awards during its time at the institution: Most Improved Association in 1997 by the International Associations Council, Best Cultural Club in 2014 and Most Active Club in 2021 by the Concordia Student Union. 

In a landscape where the United States’ historically Black colleges or universities (HBCUs)—like Spelman College and Howard University—stand as bastions of representation and African American culture, ASAC offers a cultural aspect and a community that brings forth the essence that HBCUs offer their students. Seeing that there are no HBCUs in Canada, initiatives like ASAC ensure a safe haven for Afro-descendants students who are seeking similitude during their university journey.

“I had no family here, so going to [ASAC] events and relating to people who had similar cultures was nice,” says current ASAC President Blen Abate, while reflecting on the association. “There’s a kind of culture shock when you’re from somewhere else. The Canadian lifestyle is so different, so it’s nice to have people that you can relate to and go through this with.”

Abate, who is originally from Ethiopia, joined ASAC because it acted as a speed-friending tool for her. “I was new to the city, I needed to go explore things. ASAC had a road trip, so I went, and I met a bunch of people who are now some of my closest friends,” she explains.

ASAC’s team of executives and ambassadors includes a blend of cultures from many countries in Africa and the Caribbean. 

“With your community, you can be yourself, and since joining ASAC, I’ve met my people. I was actually able to build that university life that everybody talks about,” says Iman Kande,  the director of multimedia at ASAC. 

Kande expresses how the association is like a breath of fresh air for her, after her experience of feeling misunderstood by schoolmates. “A lot of people who I was in class with couldn’t understand certain things that were normal to me, so I thought I might as well hang out with people that kinda grew up the same as me. People who get me,” she says.

Many Black students can feel lost and left to themselves in academia, and depending on their field of study, they can sometimes be one of the only Black individuals in their classrooms. 

ASAC tries to counter this feeling with events and encouraging participation from Black students to become ambassadors or executive members, where Black students can come out of their shell and be their authentic selves in a safe environment.

The vice-president of ASAC’s Outreach for Loyola, Jemimah Kananiro, added that: “When I’m with my Canadian friends I code switch a lot. But then with ASAC, you can see who I truly am. I’m able to do things I never thought I would. It’s like a family.” 

According to ASAC’s mission, the association aspires to be a haven for international African students and students who are of African descent. “It’s really about building different types of activities to reunite people, and for the community to come together,” Kananiro says.

ASAC’s events are also widely anticipated by its members. 

“I enjoy coming to their events because they’re so fun, it feels like [a] home away from home. ASAC is amazing because it brings everyone together, not just African students but even Caribbean people who want to know more about their descendants. It brings all of us together,” says Josephine Ohioma, an ASAC ambassador while on the sidelines of ASAC’s Field Day Fundraiser event.

ASAC is continuing to prepare more engaging events for students, as its much-anticipated gala Uzuri, is approaching. The event allows students to dress in their finest African traditional wear to celebrate and enjoy a plethora of dance, poetry, modelling and singing performances. “We don’t get to go to weddings and events back home. Having these galas where we can wear our traditional clothing is nice, so we can have that aspect of our culture still be a part of our lives,” Abate says.

Uzuri will highlight Afrofuturism and showcase African culture and talent from Concordia, and Montreal as a whole. “It’s our biggest event of the year, we have some unique performances. We also have a lot of new ideas, we’re really excited to see everything and I think that people will love it,” Abate adds.

ASAC has been working to rebuild its foundation since the pandemic halted student life in 2020. “Things have been up and down since COVID happened, all the plans they (past executives) had kinda went down. Now we’re stable and able to do more things,” says Abate. She said that this year’s team is dedicated to making a bigger impact on Concordia’s community. ASAC wants to make it known that Concordia students should stay put for more workshops, events and community engagement. 

However, ASAC does not limit itself to Concordia. The association is known throughout Montreal universities. “It’s actually a magical thing, because all the different African associations in Montreal work together, we all go to each other’s events. There’s only one word and it’s community, honestly,” Kande says.

“We want to organize events that reunite all the African associations. It could be a thing where people from all over the world choose to attend Concordia because of all the huge events and impact that we’d be able to have if we continue to work together,” she adds.

One may look at it as another club at Concordia, but its members say ASAC is a symbol of solidarity, love, shared roots, and inclusivity. 

“At the end of the day, we’re all a family, ASAC is for everyone who just wants to enjoy themselves,” Kande says.

This article originally appeared in Volume 44, Issue 10, published February 13, 2024.