Ice Cube

Fist fight no more: Ice Cube brings togetherness to Atlanta stroll off

The multimedia star wants to inspire students to strive harder toward their goals, no matter what they are

When you think about rapper/actor/entrepreneur Ice Cube, you usually associate him with confrontation – but not on Thursday. On this day, Ice Cube showed up in Atlanta before a packed Bishop Cornelius Henderson Student Center auditorium on Clark Atlanta University’s campus to not only promote his new movie Fist Fight, but to inspire someone to never stop dreaming.

“I think it’s important for success to touch students,” said Cube. “Sometimes just getting a glimpse is all it takes for somebody to spark something in themselves, and hopefully I can be an inspiration in some kind of way.”

Cube attended the Atlanta University Center (AUC) stroll off, and the atmosphere inside the Henderson Student Center was of a tight-knit, fierce competition between rival schools that make up Atlanta’s AUC. Thursday at the Henderson, you saw stroll teams from Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse and Spelman colleges and the Morehouse School of Medicine. Students from all over the AUC gathered and put together stroll teams that usually lent themselves to competition, rivalries, prizes and bragging rights. But this is a new day – a new generation, and now students and the Greek-letter organizations of the AUC have quickly changed that narrative from rivalry to togetherness.

The event’s MC, Headkrack from TV’s Dish Nation, alongside DJ JT, hyped the crowd before the arrival of Ice Cube with fun-filled games, prizes, giveaways and even a freestyle rap battle. And while the fun and games were going on, students and Greeks alike knew the significance of where all of this was taking place.

Phi Beta Sigma brothers perform routine for crowd at stroll off.

Phi Beta Sigma brothers perform routine for crowd at stroll off.

Matt Odom for The Undefeated

“The student center is named after one of our former chaplains here at CAU,” said Mario Boone, the media relations manager at Clark Atlanta University. “Cornelius Henderson was a beloved figure here on the campus, just very well-respected and regarded, and so when we come into the building, we want to honor his name, his legacy and students come in with that in mind, and so there’s an expectation of how to conduct themselves.”

Started in 1929, the AUC was formed as a way for students and Greek-letter organizations to come together and express themselves. But while it’s uncertain when strolling or stepping began to happen, many claim its origins can be traced to the late 20th century, circa 1980s or ’90s.

“It’s actually called an AUC stroll off,” said Clark Atlanta associate director for student involvement and leadership Rae Warner. “I would say it could have been maybe the ’90s or maybe the ’80s when they started actually strolling. Competitionwise, that didn’t start until early 2000s.”

This rhythmic dance or stepping wasn’t just for the Greeks. It was also a residence hall step or stroll show where some teams from the residence halls or houses competed. Some combined groups from multiple colleges competed as well. For instance, the Omega Psi Phi stroll group, the eventual winner Thursday, was composed of both Clark Atlanta and Morehouse students.

Take look at behind the scenes photos of the stroll off

“Greek life is a very important component of most, if not all HBCUs [historically black colleges and universities] and certainly that is the case here at Clark Atlanta University,” said Boone. “The stroll off is just one component of that, and it’s an opportunity for the Greek organizations to show off stepping skills and offer a kind of lighthearted moment in the midst of all the work the students have to do on a daily basis – in terms of classes, exams. So having an opportunity to come in and watch a stroll off represents taking a breather, letting your hair down and just being a student on the fun side of things is very important here at Clark Atlanta – and I think pretty much across all HBCUs throughout the country.

“I know that over time it evolved from a step show to a stroll off, which are two different things,” Warner said. “Step shows, of course, are more synchronized steps, a routine put to a theme possibly, and then a stroll off is more so like a dance or dance movements to a song. Where it may have started as a step, it evolved into actually having stroll teams or hot teams or depending on whatever the fraternity/sorority are calling it.”

Once Ice Cube hit the stage, he didn’t disappoint. He presented the winning stroll team a check prize of $1,000. They competed against and defeated the Manley Hall stroll team from Spelman and the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity stroll team from Morehouse.

“That’s really what it’s all about – being an inspiration,” said Ice Cube. “Whether you see Fist Fight or not, that don’t matter. What matters is if you get inspired to do what you want to do – maybe it’s in entertainment, maybe it’s not. But to see me, it’s like, man, I have to go a little harder, or I want what Cube’s got or I want to be that type of artist, whatever kind of inspiration it is that makes you strive harder, that’s what I’m here for.”

The movie featuring Ice Cube, Charlie Day and Tracy Morgan, opened Friday across the country.

Spelman College Freshman Dormitory steppers perform routine for crowd at stroll off.

Spelman College Freshman Dormitory steppers perform routine for crowd at stroll off.

Matt Odom for The Undefeated

“I think it was ironic how full the auditorium was, because I actually grew up on Ice Cube,” said Warner. “Being a bit older than the students, but they were so excited to see him when he came out. Just the excitement of him coming to the campus, and I do believe this is his first time being at Clark Atlanta University. I know since I’ve been here, he hasn’t come. But it was something special to them for him to present a check prize to the stroll off winners and for them to take pictures with him and just to see from him – from the records to the big screen to in-person – he was the same person.”

Although rivalries and the fiery competitiveness temporarily faded, Warner sees growth in the success of stepping and/or strolling, and thinks that it’s good to have a bond among the AUC.

“It varies and depends on how many teams are able to compete,” said Warner. “Whereas it could be fraternities against sororities, or there could be a fraternity winner and then a sorority winner and then there are residence halls that are putting their steppers or stroll teams together and they compete as well. It just depends on how many are competing and what the prize may be, if there’s a prize for two winners opposed to one … I think it’s the variety is what makes this good.”

So by combining halls and residences from schools of the AUC, the stroll off is about togetherness, brotherhood and sisterhood and not a rivalry – no more.