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An event in honor of Black History Month didn’t just draw a crowd from one single racial group.

Thursday night in Irvine Auditorium, the brothers of Phi Beta Sigma in conjunction with Penn National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Drexel Black Student Union hosted a forum entitled “Discussing Black Politics in Modern America.”

Reuben D’Silva, a College of Liberal and Professional Studies student and brother of Phi Beta Sigma said that he “really appreciated the racial diversity” of the turnout. Jesse Rhodes, the vice president of Philadelphia’s graduate chapter for Phi Beta Sigma, added that there was “great participation from the audience,” many of which resorted to sitting on window sills when chairs ran out.

Audience members interacted actively with the seven panelists in attendance, ranging from the former chief of the New York City Department of Correction to College freshman and Chief of Staff of the Penn Political Review Ben Wofford.

D’Silva, who moderated the event, opened the discussion with a brief history of American black politics. “Black political issues have been part of our nation from the beginning,” D’Silva said before handing over the reins to the panelists.

As the panelists discussed heavy issues of religion, the prison system and education, silence pervaded the small room crowded with approximately 60 people. Speaking about many minority students in the public school system today, panelist Krista Cortes, a Gradute School of Education student, said “They’re really not given the chance to succeed.”

That’s not to say the event didn’t have its light moments. “We’re not being videotaped, so I don’t care,” panelist Garry Bertholf, an Africana Studies graduate student and William Fontaine Fellow of Africana Studies, said before criticizing President Barack Obama’s prior campaign platform. “Someone ask me about affirmative action!” Bertholf also added at the end of his turn.

The audience, populated by Penn and Drexel students, as well as Penn alumni and older members of Phi Beta Sigma, was satisfied overall with the discussion. Nursing freshman Marcella Hill said that at the close of the event, she felt inspired “to give to the community” where she grew up. Stuart Dixon, a 2009 Penn alumnus, said in “condensing so much into such a short time” that he hoped “the discussion goes on somewhere else in a bigger forum.”

Phi Beta Sigma will be following up their “first academic-based event” with discussions later this semester concerning other issues such as abortion and religion.

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