“Stormy or sunny days, glorious or lonely nights, I maintain an attitude of gratitude.” Maya Angelou
The year 2021 is quickly coming to an end, and it’s been a year we will not soon forget. The world has witnessed the devastation of so many lives by the common denominators of Covid-19 and natural disasters. Yet I am still here and so are you, which brings to mind a universal word- thankful. I am thankful to the African American Alumni Association (AAAA) for your continued support throughout this year. Your participation in our limited planning due to Covid-19 is greatly appreciated. It was great to see those of you who attended virtual game nights and other events, and who came in person to Homecoming 2021’s Welcome Reception, Stephanie Tubbs Jones 5K Run and hybrid business meeting. On October 29, 2021, you helped us welcome renowned civil-rights attorney Fred Gray to the Law School, where we rediscovered that Gray, who recently celebrated his 91st birthday, is also an exceptional story-teller and conversationalist.
It was my pleasure to once again interact with students in-person at the annual Ebony Ball. Though times remain unusual for us, I am so thankful that we have found ways to enjoy life. My wish for you is simply this- a wonderful season of celebrations and a New Year full of family, friends, and the best of health.
Vera Perkins-Hughes (WRC ’76) President, African American Alumni Association
Photo: Kamron Kahn Photography
After a year hiatus due to Covid-19, on Friday, October 22, 2021, the African American Alumni Association (AAAA) Homecoming returned to campus with its signature Welcome Reception at the Linsalata Alumni Center. Robert L. Solomon, vice president for the Office of Inclusion, Diversity, and Equal Opportunity, brought greetings from the university and stressed his commitment to “the four c’s”, community, curriculum, climate, and culture. He is working to increase black enrollment from the 5-7% it has been for many years and welcomes referrals of persons of color for faculty and staff positions. The evening continued with delicious food, a candlelight vigil and unity circle, and rousing games. The AAAA thanks Chamois Williams, Senior Director of Alumni Relations, Sharyse Jones (SAS ’08), Program Committee Chair, and all who made it happen.Find event photos in our Facebook album.
In 2021, The CWRU chapter of BLSA, the Black Law Student Association, celebrated its 50th year on campus, culminating with a visit from distinguished alumnus, Fred D. Gray. Gray was lawyer for Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr, and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, to name a few of the seminal cases in which he has been involved.
Since 1971, BLSA members have participated in many facets of life at CWRU and in the city of Cleveland. In 1972, a Civil Rights complaint was filed against the Law School by, and on behalf of, Black law students. Over the years BLSA members have mentored and trained high school and undergrad students, as well as 1L’s from the Cleveland area, and participated in various Mock Trial and Moot Court competitions. The chapter has sponsored many job fairs, Black History Month events, conferences, panels, and speakers. It has hosted cookouts, receptions, food drives and charitable fundraisers. BLSA, the oldest ongoing African American graduate organization on campus, is truly part of the fabric of CWRU. The African American Alumni Association congratulates BLSA on all it has achieved and looks forward to its next 50 years.
Pippa Carter (LAW ’88)
On October 29, 2021, Students of Promise and My Brother's Keeper of Greater Cleveland, in partnership with Case Western Reserve University’s School of Law, Social Justice Institute, FOCUS Outreach Programs and African American Alumni Association, hosted a conversation with civil rights pioneer and still-practicing attorney Fred D. Gray (LAW ’54). With passion and humor, Gray recounted highlights of his seven-decade career and answered questions from the overflow crowd. He is proud to have kept his promise to himself to "destroy everything segregated he could find.” Letting others do the marching, the interviews and the public relations, Gray effected change by changing laws. Probably best known as the lawyer who defended Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Fred Gray successfully litigated four major civil rights cases in front of the United States Supreme Court.
Gray has this advice for those who want to see change in this country. Admit that racism and inequality are wrong. Then make a plan and enlist the help of others in executing it. No one can do it alone. We all have be part of the solution. Watch excerpts of the conversation.
The African American Society’s forty-eighth annual Ebony Ball, hosted by President Roy Buziba, took place in Thwing Ballroom on November 21, 2021. The evening opened with dinner and a presentation by the Voices of Glory gospel choir. Consistent with the theme Keep the Fire Burning, guests were attired in red or black, and keynote speaker Justine McKenzie (CWR '92) encouraged all to pursue this three-step process for a fulfilling life. Find your fire, your passion, your purpose, but don’t let it consume you. Follow your fire, being aware that progress is not a straight line. You are gold; let your fire refine you. Dancing completed the evening.
Students pose by the Black Dorm, 1972
Photo: Erma Leaphart-Gouch (WRC ’75)
The best description of the '70s was penned by Charles Dickens in his classic novel, A Tale of Two Cities. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” Sounds a lot like today, doesn't it?
The tumult of the 70s was a product of the transformation of the civil rights movement to the black power movement. Black students made demands for major changes at many colleges and universities where they had been previously overlooked and/or dismissed. They were emboldened by the words of Malcolm X, H. Rap Brown, Angela Davis, and other leading voices that advocated change by any means necessary.
Case Western Reserve University was not immune to these protests. Black students in 1970 shocked the administration by taking their protest right to the president and trustees. Students took over the administration building and trustee meetings to voice their demands for change, most of which the university yielded to. As a result, historic concessions were made, the most extraordinary of which I am often asked about. Sherman House became the Black Dorm, officially called the African American Cultural Living Experience. It was occupied by African American students only, with men living on the second floor and women on the third and fourth. Stephanie Tubbs, who later became a US Congresswoman and now has a dorm named in her honor, was Dorm Director.
The Black Dorm was a cultural living experience. From time-to-time famous black artists performing in the Cleveland area visited the dorm to meet and/or perform for us. The most famous of these visitors were jazz pianist Herbie Hancock and well-known dancer/choreographer Katherine Dunham. In addition, residents of the house learned traditional African dances, cooked traditional African meals, and wore traditional attire. The dorm became a haven for all African American students, even those who resided elsewhere.
Other firsts borne out of the protests included the Black Studies courses in history and literature, an African American play production at Eldridge Theater and a weekly Black pages section in the Observer newspaper. Stay tuned for more little-known CWRU black history facts in upcoming newsletters.
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Mark Smith (WRC ’75)
Please join the CWRU community virtually on Friday, January 14th for the 2022 Martin Luther King, Jr. Convocation Keynote Address.
This year’s keynote speaker is historian and Peabody Award-winning journalist Jelani Cobb, a staff writer at the New Yorker and the Ira A. Lipman Professor of Journalism at Columbia University. The theme is The Half-Life of Freedom, Race and Justice in America Today.
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Raymond Henry (ADL '72)
Want to see who else is involved with the AAAA? AAAA members as of December 2021.
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