Soul Food Success

UMD students and community members gathered in celebration of Black talent, food, and culture at the annual Soul Food Dinner.


Elizabeth Manly-Spain and fellow students are seated around a dinner table at the annual Soul Food Dinner at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
Soul Food Dinner is an annual event hosted by the Black Student Association at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Aromas of fried chicken, corn bread, greens, banana pudding and more combined into an alluring bouquet of delicious smells in the Kirby Ballroom during the annual Soul Food Dinner at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). The event, hosted by UMD’s Black Student Association (BSA), was designed to bring students of African descent together in celebration of the Black community.

There’s a clatter of utensils and conversation as a line of people plate their food. “You have to try the catfish,” one person says–even before sitting down, there’s an air of camaraderie and celebration.

Also in the line was Elizabeth Manly-Spain, BSA president and UMD marketing student. Getting involved in a student organization, she said, introduced her to some of her best friends and also provided her with ways to apply what she’s learning in the classroom in meaningful ways on campus–like organizing Soul Food Dinner.

“One part of marketing is just telling the story of an organization or a business,” Manly-Spain said, “and I’ve really been able to apply that with Black Student Association.”

The BSA Dance Team, wearing matching red shirts and blue jeans, performs on stage at Weber Music Hall during the annual Soul Food Dinner event.
Dinner was followed by performances in Weber Music Hall including a dance by the BSA Dance Team.

At Soul Food, tables were set in black and gold linen around white, floral centerpieces. Popular music played overhead, mixing with a lively chorus of conversation and laughter. Once everyone was seated, Manly-Spain and fellow BSA board members took to the stage to address the audience and thanked them for their support.

Also onstage was Ken Foxworth, former African American Student Services Coordinator at UMD and an original creator of the Soul Food Dinner.

“I’m in tears just about to see all y’all out here,” Foxworth said. He described his role in establishing the Harry Oden Scholarship for Minority Students and Students with Disabilities, and underscored the value of higher education, before pledging a donation to BSA. “We appreciate you,” he said, his attention now on Manly-Spain and her fellow BSA board members.

Dinner was followed by performances in Weber Music Hall and featured dancing, music, comedy, and spoken word. Each act was met with heavy applause that filled Weber’s dome-like structure and billowed down adjoining hallways.

“I was really just looking for a community … somewhere where I could be a part of something,” she said. “And that something happened to be Black Student Association.”

Capping off the night was a dance performance from Manly-Spain and the BSA Dance Team. Vibrant red light filled the stage, seeming to radiate from the group’s matching red shirts. Their movements were driven by a mix of songs from artists such as Lancey Foux, Rhianna, Ciara and more. The tempo increased as the dancers captivated the audience, who whistled and hollered with excitement and admiration. After the final beat bounced from the large wooden sound panels high above the stage, Manly-Spain smiled and blew an adoring kiss to the crowd.