VOTE is the word we have been hearing for several months, first for the primaries and then the general election. By the time this article is published, the 2018 mid-term general election will have ended. I know that all of our African American Alumni Association (AAAA) members cast our votes and will continue to advocate for the pressing issues in our communities, inequalities such as poverty, hunger, poor education, violence, joblessness, police brutality, inadequate health care… and the list goes on.
The AAAA held its election during our “50th Anniversary of Afro Am” homecoming weekend. I am thankful to the members for their vote of confidence in electing me to be the fourth president of this great association. It is my honor to serve, following in the footsteps of my predecessors. I promise to do my best to stay the course, and in the words of our homecoming theme, “embrace the past/impact the future”. My very special thanks to all alumni who shared in the homecoming festivities. It was a wonderful celebration.
The past was beautifully highlighted by Linda Berry Wheatt, AAAA communication chair, and Elizabeth Meinke, Kelvin Smith Library (KSL) exhibits coordinator, with a timeline of pictures and documents chronicling the African American Society, 1968-2018. I hope all who came to homecoming were able to see the exhibit. I plan to be vigilant in working with Dr. Marilyn Mobley (GRS ‘87, English), VP, Inclusion, Diversity & Equal Opportunity, and others at CWRU to preserve and add to the exhibit. Please email any artifacts you can contribute to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The African American Society (AAS) is the oldest black student organization on campus at CWRU. I believe this speaks to our commitment to a sense of community where we support each other. We have heard the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” In addition, it takes “sisterhood and brotherhood” on a campus where your culture is represented by only 4% of the total undergraduate enrollment. It is my personal mission to continue to be this village by supporting the campus initiatives of the current African American Society. I encourage you to contact me and let me know your availability to share time with our students. Your support can make a lasting impact on their futures.
Another homecoming highlight was when President Barbara Snyder provided me with the opportunity to speak at the Blue Block Party. This awesome occasion publicly recognized both the AAS and the AAAA. President Snyder stated, “Among this year’s milestones is the 50th Anniversary of our African American Society, an organization which emerged out of a call to improve the experiences of African American students on our campus.” A special acknowledgement also goes to Dr. Marilyn Mobley for the impact that the second Trailblazer Project portrait unveilings will continue to have on the contributions of African American Alumni.
Finally, during this upcoming holiday season let us be mindful of others by becoming volunteers. The act of helping brings a small measure of comfort to those in need and a huge sense of accountability to our calling to give back. It is during these holidays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s and Martin Luther King Jr. Day, that non-profit agencies are especially in need of volunteers. Let each of us put forth a special effort. We can volunteer in food pantries, homeless shelters, local VA hospitals and other veterans’ organizations, to name a few who are looking for help to meet the needs of those they serve.
Vera Perkins-Hughes, BA, LSW (WRC ‘76)
Alumni Spotlight: Taneisha Deans
"I've always been interested in cars. As a child, my ultimate goal was to design a hydro-powered car. When I found out that most of a car was made from polymers, it made me want to obtain a degree in that field,” says Taneisha Deans (CWR ‘12; GRS ‘17, macromolecular science), one of the first students to participate in CWRU’s Polymer Envoys Program.
The Envoys Program was designed by faculty of the Macromolecular Science & Engineering and Physics departments to put a STEM career within reach for Cleveland-area high school students. A total of 69 students have enrolled in the program since its beginning in 2006, and as of today there are 45 graduates. All of them have matriculated to college, and 88% chose to study in a STEM field.
Deans applied to the program because she was interested in math and science and wanted to learn more about the world-renowned research taking place at Case Western Reserve. “Twice a week, I came to the macro department and worked with my graduate mentor on his research project and my homework. I also got help with writing, presentation skills, tutoring… and the list goes on.”
Envoys students work with university faculty and graduate students, as well as top industry experts, for three years and three summer sessions of intensive research, mentorship and STEM coursework. During the school year, students spend five hours a week on campus, building laboratory experience, developing leadership skills and preparing for their careers. During summer sessions, envoys get a deep dive into a progressive STEM curriculum, including fundamentals like chemistry, dimensional analysis, engineering design, math, physics and polymer science. They also get access to Case Western Reserve’s innovation hub, Sears think[box], field trips to STEM sites, and training in laboratory protocols, equipment and safety.
According to Deans, “My favorite thing about the program was working with my mentor [David Schiraldi, the Peter A. Asseff Professor and chair of the Department of Macromolecular Science and Engineering]. Dr. Schiraldi was so patient. He taught me skills that I use today in my career. Despite the fact that in my perception doctors did not look like me, Dr. Schiraldi told me that I could become Dr. Deans if I worked and studied hard.”
Following graduation from the Envoys program, Deans completed her bachelor’s in polymer science at Case Western Reserve in 2012 and received her PhD in 2017. She now works for DSM Engineering Plastics as a Research & Technology engineer. Says Deans, “It is great being able to introduce myself as Dr. Deans.”
- From Case School of Engineering
AAAA Celebrates Afro Am
"I don’t know anybody here. What do I do now?” thought Linda Berry Wheatt (FSM ’72; GRS ’77, education), as she stood alone in front of Taft House in September 1968, and watched her parents begin the 425-mile drive home. “What now?”
Afro Am soon became the answer to that question for her and for many other students.
"The isolation created by the social dynamics of campus life forged a bond between African-American students, a kinship encouraged by first black admissions officer Michael Fisher. This bond became the foundation of Afro Am.” - Iverson Banks-Bey (WRC ‘74)
"Being an Afro American Society member helped me establish an extended family connection that is still strong today, a sense of kinship unparalleled at other universities. In fact, even today friends who attended other institutions tell me they are envious of the experience I had at CWRU.” - Alan Mitchell (WRC ‘76)
"Afro Am was indeed one of the highlights of my college career. It fostered a sense of purpose, belonging, unity, racial pride, dignity, respect, self-awareness, determination and collective responsibility.” - Deborah Moorman-Williams (WRC ‘74)
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Case Western Reserve University African American Society (AAS). It was formed in 1968 as the Afro American Society (Afro Am), during a time when our nation was divided over many human rights issues. One of its earliest and most far-reaching actions was the presentation of demands to President Robert Morse, which resulted in increased numbers of black students, faculty, staff and programming. Afro Am continues to be an active student organization. It seeks to educate, celebrate, unify and generate solutions for African-American students, as well as promote meaningful dialogue among campus groups and support the surrounding community.
Many African American Alumni Association members were once members of Afro Am. AAAA congratulates the African American Society on its esteemed legacy and looks forward to the next 50 years.
African American Alumni Weekend was that rare combination of nostalgia, joy in the present, and a glimpse of the future with all its hopes and expectations.
Former CWRU professor John McCluskey, developer of the original African American Studies department, took us down the road of our history during a Friday morning Diversity Think Forum. He reminded us of the journey as he outlined the development of the department, the courses that were offered and the professors who joined him. Those of us who were there during his time were treated once again to his clear and thoughtful teaching style, while more recent grads were given a taste of what it was like “back in the day” when the excitement of change and new intellectual endeavors on our behalf were at the forefront of the black student experience.
Dr. Joy Bostic, founding director, of the new minor in African and African American Studies, discussed the efforts involved in reviving this focused study at CWRU. The innovation she described and the lenses through which understanding of our experience is being explored were exciting, note to Kendrick Lamar, for example. This called to mind explorations of James Brown and the blues during the early years, and it was clear that, despite the interruption in the presence of the department, the thread has not been broken.
Coming together on Friday evening is always one of the best parts of the weekend, and this time was no different. Old friends reconnected, and new friends were made as we spent the evening together, playing games and remembering Stephanie Tubbs Jones and others on our candlelit walk to her memorial statue.
Friday’s events set the stage for what’s new at CWRU. Noticeable throughout the weekend was the recognition of our contributions to the university and larger community. Kudos to Dr. Mobley and others for their hard work in this regard! From African American honorees Janice Eatman-Williams (MNO '01) and Donte Gibbs (CWR ‘10, SAS ‘12) at the homecoming luncheon to the unveiling of portraits of six black CWRU heroes, it was apparent that movement in the area of inclusion is afoot. Still, McCluskey gave us food for thought in his comments at our Saturday night dinner, encouraging us to consider the notion of change vs. growth as we evaluate where the university stands now and think about how we can help to foster both.
Although the 50th anniversary of Afro-Am was being celebrated this year, we learned that there are now seven different affiliations available to black students, all under the umbrella of the Black Student Union. Students were open about their experiences at CWRU and the needs that the various affinity groups are trying to address. Over the weekend we heard about personal journeys, changes that are needed at the university, and student efforts at unity. We could only walk away impressed, encouraged and proud of these bright young people who are contributing to the CWRU legacy with an eye toward making an impact in the larger community and the world.
No gathering of alums is complete without a party, and party we did. Our soul train line affirmed our exuberance at being together.
We departed after the prayer breakfast on Sunday morning with strengthened spirits, having talked, laughed taken care of business and shared ways in which to assist our alumni association. Coming together in unity and with purpose reinforced our ties and renewed our determination and direction.
With remembrance of our time at CWRU, our knowledge of what’s going on now, and our anticipation of the future, we wrapped up the weekend. Grateful for the time together and rejuvenated by our shared role in helping to move things forward, we look with high anticipation to our next gathering.
Thanks to all who made the weekend possible. Ashe.
Michele L. Owens-Patterson, PhD (FSM ‘71)
Photos: Kamron Kahn Photography
Homecoming 2018: African American Alumni Association Dinner Dance
Homecoming 2018: African American Alumni Association Welcome Reception
Photos: Liza Sue Productions
Homecoming 2018: African American Alumni Association Breakfast
John A. McCluskey with presenter Linda Berry Wheatt
The Trailblazer Project, an initiative of the Office for Inclusion, Diversity and Equal Opportunity, honors distinguished CWRU alumni of color who are pioneers in their respective fields. On the afternoon of Saturday, October 13, 2018, portraits of six Phase II honorees were unveiled:
- Jefferson Jones, DMD
- Steve Minter, PhD (SAS ’63)
- Judge Jean Murrell Capers, JD (EDU ’32)
- Sarah Short Austin, MSSA (SAS ’62)
- Joan Southgate, MSSA (SAS ’54)
- May Wykle, PhD, RN, FAAN, FGSA (NUR ‘62, ’69; GRS ’81, education)
Later that evening, the AAAA presented its biannual awards. Licensed social worker Debra Lewis-Curlee (WRC ’74) received the Stephanie Tubbs Jones Leadership Award for 40 plus years of advocating for Cleveland-area families. CWRU’s own G. Dean Patterson (WRC ’75; GRS ’82, health science education), Ella Mae Johnson Service Award recipient, was recognized for three decades of service in higher education. Rising Star Award winner Alesha Washington (MNO ’07) serves the business community as vice president for government advocacy at the Greater Cleveland Partnership. John A. McCluskey, author, professor and CWRU’s first director of Black Studies, was honored with the inaugural Distinguished Academic Award. Congratulations to all!
Save the Date
Please join the African American Alumni Association and the African American Society for our second annual morning of service at the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, February 2, 2019, 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. More information to follow.
Please mark your calendars for the African American Society’s 45th Annual Ebony Ball, December 1, 2018, 7 p.m. at Thwing Auditorium. Tickets $15.
New Course Topic for Spring 2019: Morrison, Baldwin and Coates on Race in America
Taught by Dr. Marilyn Mobley
Reach Back Raise Up
The new Reach Back Raise Up giving page is now live. It lists all of the scholarships included in RBRU, as well as other diversity giving opportunities. If you’d like to make a gift to the scholarship of your choice, please visit the giving page by selecting the link. Thank you.
Want to see who else is involved with the AAAA? AAAA members as of April 2018.
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