Black Plaza is an annual gathering of Stanford students, faculty and staff. It takes place every fall in an area called White Plaza, the heart of the Stanford campus. The first recorded occurrence of Black Plaza was is 2008 but the spirit has existed as long as Black students have attended Stanford. In a recent interview for Stanford Magazine titled What It Was Like to Be an African-American Freshman in 1962, Ira Hall said, "If I saw another black person, we’d stop and have a holiday." Today, although students still have to attend class, the day of Black Plaza is all but a holiday, adorned with music, dancing, food, and more recently, a coveted T-Shirt.
The T-Shirt is usually a reflection of both the campus climate and the national climate. In 2014, for example, the Black Plaza T-Shirt featured the phrase “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot”. This anthem of the Black Lives Matter Movement was commonly utilized during protests calling for an end to police brutality across the country. Many students took part in these protests during the school year and have remained involved in activism.
This commitment to activism took a toll on the Black community, with many students feeling drained by the start of the 2015 academic year. As Black Plaza neared, the staff of the Black Community Services Center, myself included, thought deeply about how to best serve the community and set the tone for the rest of the year. We collectively found that the community needed healing after what was a difficult year for many and we tried to make Black Plaza as affirming and fun as possible.
When designing the T-shirt, I had two main inspirations.
The first was the TV show Martin. The show was hugely popular and had an unmistakeable impact on hip-hop and American pop culture. Specifically, the aesthetic of its title appealed to me and resonated with the hope of lifting students’ spirits.
The second was the phrase "I'm Black and I'm Proud" which was popularized in the song "Say It Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud, Pt. I" by James Brown. The song was released in 1968, the same year that Black Stanford students demanded the creation of what would become the Black Community Services Center. The phrase gave the shirt a sense of poetry that I liked, and made it successful amongst past and present Stanford students.