Students, alumni, faculty, and staff gather at the Ayers Multicultural Center to celebrate the implementation of the African American Alumni Association.
By Klarke Stricklen
Earlier this semester, rumors began to spread like wildfire over the potential launching of an African American Alumni Association for the college. These whispers were soon verified through a formal announcement from Eric Benjamin (C’73), director of Multicultural Affairs. The association was launched in conjunction with the homecoming festivities, including the annual Benjamin homecoming dinner party, a late night jazz performance by Dermel Warren, and an early morning gospel breakfast.
Many students, including myself, swarmed into the Ayres Multicultural Center (MCC) to hear Dermel’s sweet covers of Lauryn Hill as well as the student requested “Golden” by Jill Scott. Throughout the night, students were able to interact with alumni in a setting that, for both, was a home away from home. These sentiments caused many alumni to jokingly remark “we built this home,” something that in all actuality was true.
Students in the earlier years of the MCC fostered a strong sense of community within its small walls, built with love, inclusion, empathy, and safety. Just to name a few. As a current African American student of the college, seeing the amount of warmth and solidarity flood into the rooms of the MCC from people, of whom I had never met, was a remarkable feeling. The falsity of a remorseful “I understand” was not apparent because these people, my people, could empathize.
The next morning, I was welcomed into the MCC by Benjamin, widely known to many students and alumni as our beloved Mr. B. The early morning sounds of gospel music and the sweet taste of fresh muffins and orange juice added to the collective cheerfulness throughout the room. For me, being able to interact with alumni who shared similar experiences and aspirations for African American students on campus, was a gratifying reality that I wished could have lasted longer.
Their words of encouragement and faith in our current campus leaders gave me a needed boost and ensured me that our work was just beginning. At the tail end of our breakfast, we were not only able to interact with our alumni but enjoy a visit and conversation from the McCardells.
The close of the breakfast promoted Benjamin to announce the formal start of the African American Alumni Association. An organization that had been in the works for many years and utilized universities and colleges, such as Davidson, Notre Dame, and Centre as primary examples to justify the need for an association at our college. After Benjamin’s announcements, members of the association reviewed the mission statement and goals of the organization.
In the meeting, the association allowed current students to view the mission statement, which said, “The mission of the Sewanee African American Alumni Association is to advance the well-being and long-term success of African American students, African American alumni, and the University, by chartering an organization to support students and to share the accumulated wisdom and insight of our community, to the benefit of all.”
After reflecting upon the mission statement, there was a widespread glee felt throughout the room. For many students this marked a chance to have a direct connection with alumni, who were offering a clear line of continuous support and mentorship; at the same time, alumni could connect with current students and supply them with the tools and guidance that they felt was a needed component within students’ experiences.
In consideration of the many shared sentiments, for me, this moment marked something I had long waited on. A sense of community and resources, for African American students, especially those who come unattached from any scholar group.
The ending of the meeting brought many heartfelt goodbyes but also a deep awareness of the need for continuous communication between both parties, whether from students to alumni or among alumni themselves. As I have reflected upon my attendance and interaction throughout the entire weekend, I can not express the amount of gratitude I have for the creators of the association. While it is only the beginning, the association’s reach has become a prominent thought and reality within my life, causing me to anticipate an active involvement within my future.