Celebrating Black Excellence: Danni Olusanya

I scheduled to meet Danni on the steps inside the Nest on a cold yet beautiful Vancouver day. As I waited for her I read through the list of questions I had written for her from the night before. Who’s your biggest role model? Who dead or alive would you like to have dinner with? What is an accomplishment you are most proud of?

I got frustrated because I felt like none of these questions could capture Danni’s essence, a bold and radiant leader on campus. Her accomplishments of helping develop the Black Student Union and being the Ubyssey’s first Black female culture editor led her to speak at conferences, interviews by the Tyee, and ultimately being a highly regarded leader on campus. Yet none of these accomplishments could ever encapsulate the energy Danni brought to every room she entered. Now, I had the opportunity to interview her for the AMS Black History Black and Excellence celebrations.

We met on the steps at 12:45. She walked over to me, and we decided to sit outside in the sunshine. Within the first minute, Danni and I had already embarked on a dialogue about mental exhaustion during the past year. She told me “it feels like this February people care less and this is because people spent all their energy in the summer.” She mentioned Allyship Fatigue and the importance of continued push for institutional change which seems to have been lost in the sea of black squares. “Just uplifting a few Black People doesn’t solve the problem of racism at all. That’s Tokenization” she said.

Danni shared her experiences being involved in institutions detailing a multitude of empty promises including organization-wide Anti-racism training. We connected on navigating working within institutions with historical legacies of excluded women and in particular, women of colour. I could tell this was a point of mutual tension for both Danni and me as she posed the question, ”with the education I have and in particular the Minor I have in GRSJ how do I now go work in an institution?” I did not know the answer.

We delved into the anxiety-provoking realities of our upcoming graduation. What felt like an abyss that we had to step into especially given the disparate economy during the COVID-19 pandemic. She said “I am so comfortable” right now, because “I know that as a student and member of Ubyssey, I have the power to hold the institution accountable. But that power is finite and it is ending.”

Danni shared some illuminating perspectives on Black History Month. She mentioned the exhaustion associated with “effectively” speaking Blackness. I resonated with her words about the pressure to make trauma presentable in a way that is palatable and consumable to people. She also quoted a friend who compared it to a talent show where “Black people are engaged to perform for White people” for a month. Danni followed up by saying, “but with a full course load, work, and personal life I have no time to perform.”

Danni and I discussed topics from Instagram, to the Bachelor, to Bridgerton, to navigating this complicated campus and world as a Black woman. She shared the evolution of the Black community on campus since the BSU and the “Universal feeling amongst Black students at UBC of being alone.” Danni also advised young women like herself to speak up and “see yourself within the system” explaining that she did this in part by realizing “learning some feminism will never include me took some time.”

Things to look out for Danni are her work in the Ubysseys Sex Issue for Valentine’s day, she also mentioned the Ubyssey Magazine she’s spearheading which is going to be about the systemic nature of UBC. With 25-30 articles detailing things that have happened on campus – who was this school made for, who benefits, and who does not.

By Lilly Callender