AAAA Winter 2020

President’s Message

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” 
-- Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I was privileged to attend the CWRU Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Convocation with keynote speaker Khalil Gibran Muhammad. He explained how “bias education – race education –could help individuals and institutions reconcile the past within the present, and move toward greater equity, together” (, November 26, 2019). He gave statistics to show that African American history is not accurately being taught in many schools, and students are not being educated on the biases that exist in the United States today.

I was born in 1950 in Brownsville, Tennessee, the great-granddaughter of slaves and the daughter of sharecroppers. My African American history education came from my parents and grandparents and included stories of cheating landowners, whites-only signs, lynchings and other brutality. Sadly, seventy years later in 2020, things are parallel to the era in which I was born. The “Black Lives Matter” movement, incarceration and inhumane treatment of African Americans, and disparities in health care, education and income may be called by different names, but nonetheless are eerily reminiscent of the past.  

Still, I was recently encouraged when my five-year-old grandson, Amun-Ra, brought home a book they’d read in school titled Martin Luther King Jr.  We read together and watched a video excerpt from King’s “I Have a Dream" speech from the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” I tried to answer his questions about racism, equality and the content of character in a way that he could understand. 

While the task of addressing African American history lies with families as children’s first teachers, it is also the responsibility of the education system to teach accurate, inclusive American history. I look forward to improvements in education leading to equality in health care and basic needs and leading to justice for all in the United States and throughout the world. I continue to look forward to the realization of the dream and am always asking myself what more I could be doing.


Vera Perkins-Hughes, BA, LSW (WRC ‘76)
President, African American Alumni Association

Alumni Spotlight:
Dr. Kari A. Cunningham (DEN ‘10, ‘12)


Dr. Cunningham is a Board Certified pediatric dentist and the owner of Panther Pediatric Dentistry, so named for the mascots of Euclid High School and the University of Pittsburgh, both of which she attended. She is the only pediatric dentist in her hometown of Euclid, Ohio, and recently started a mobile dental health program in nearby Willoughby-Eastlake.
Dr. Kari considered dentistry as a career from the age of twelve. Her parents’ support and years of shadowing dentists reaffirmed her decision. She graduated valedictorian from Euclid High School in 2002 and received a full academic scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh.
In 2004, while enrolled in Pitt’s Semester at Sea program, Dr. Kari experienced many communities around the world with little or no access to dental care and began to shift her personal and professional goals. Her semester at sea awakened a deep love for Africa and a passion for community dentistry and servant leadership. After college, additional scholarships allowed her to attend Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine (CWRU), where she earned her Doctor of Dental Medicine degree in 2010, and completed her specialty training at Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital (RB&C) in 2012. She has been an adjunct faculty member at CWRU and RB&C since 2012, and is now the Dental Director of the Rainbow Center for Women and Children in Cleveland’s Midtown neighborhood.

In 2014, Dr. Kari returned to Kenya, Africa, as a volunteer pediatric dentist with the non-profit Global Dental Relief. It was then that she met Vincent Otieno, her future husband. They were married in 2019.  Dr. Kari has returned to Kenya every year since 2014 and has administered dental treatment to more than 2,000 children.
Dr. Kari Cunningham was the African American Alumni Association’s Rising Star Award winner in 2016.  She credits God with her journey. It is her passion to serve as a role model for her patients and their families, inspiring them to dream big. When she is not taking care of children’s smiles, you can find her spending time with family, traveling, planning events or enjoying live jazz around town.
Her advice?  Be humble; be patient; be kind; be grateful; be ready! (Panther Pediatrics website)

Congratulations, Robert Solomon!

Akron native Robert Solomon, a longtime diversity leader at The Ohio State University, began his new role as CWRU’s Vice President for Inclusion, Diversity, and Equal Opportunity on February 1, 2020. Congratulations and welcome aboard!


Diversity is not Enough

Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, professor of History, Race, and Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School and the Suzanne Young Murray Professor at Radcliffe Institute, introduced the novel idea of anti-bias education as a social vaccine. “The right dose delivered at the right time could immunize young people against racism,” Muhammad proposed in his keynote address at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Convocation on January 17, 2020.
“Educating children on race in America is more important than ever, and the real opportunity starts with our kindergarteners. We are not preserving their innocence by not talking about race.  Five-year-olds are not color-blind. If we leave them on their own to fill in the blanks, they are going to pick up the cultural cues that exist in our world. Messages are everywhere.”
Muhammad advised us to be honest about our history and intentional about what we teach. Many existing textbooks promote bias by omitting or skewing facts. A 2013 study at the University of Wisconsin found only three percent of 3,200 surveyed children’s books to be about black people and less than two percent to be by black authors. Students need books that are mirrors reflecting their own identities and windows providing insight into the experiences of others. 
“Inclusion on college campuses is not just about admission rates", said Muhammad. “It’s about acknowledging and addressing the issue of racism. If we can change what we teach our young people, then we can expect different adults. And if we get different adults, they’ll understand to be more diligent about not repeating the mistakes of the past. Slavery is not in the past; it’s in the headlines.”

400 Years Of African History Through Music

In collaboration with Case Western Reserve University, composer, drummer and Ohio State professor Dr. Mark Lomax II brought a condensed version of his composition 400: An Afrikan Epic to Severance Hall on January 20, 2020, as part of the Cleveland Orchestra’s annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. open house. Using a variety of musical styles, Lomax and his ensemble told the story of the Afrikan diaspora from pre-colonial Afrika, through the Ma’afa (1619-the present) and into a futuristic vision of the healthy global community Afrikan peoples could become in the next 400 years.
400: An Afrikan Epic is deeply rooted in the African tradition that music serves a functional purpose, as opposed to solely being performed for its own sake. Lomax’s wish is that his music, a hybrid of blues, gospel, jazz and classical, will serve as an agent for social change. 
In a panel discussion immediately following the concert, Lomax and CWRU’s Joy R. Bostic, Ph.D. and Christopher Jenkins addressed such issues as the need for a black aesthetic and the power of collective individualism.  “We have work to do”, said Lomax. “Only interconnectedness will save us.  The future will be better if we create it together.”


Black History 101 Mobile Museum

(l to r) front row: Linda Berry Wheatt (FSM ‘72, GRS ‘72), Kira Reed, Tiarra Thomas (CWR ‘12), Professor Griff, Vera Perkins-Hughes (WRC ‘77) - AAAA President; back row: Fred Wheatt, Massado Ngompe, Okiemute Eyemaro, Tameya Scott, Aliah Lawson- BSU President, Levite Pierre.

The Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) community received a crash course in black history on January 25, 2020, when the Black Student Union and the African American Alumni Association (AAAA) co-sponsored a mobile black history museum.  During the program, preteen through senior audience members viewed artifacts that communicated the trials and triumphs of blacks in American history, pointed out parallels in today’s the United States, and challenged people to participate in lasting solutions for these recurring problems.

 A display, courtesy of the AAAA, Exhibits Coordinator Scholarly Resources & Special Collections with Kelvin Smith Library Elizabeth Meinke, and CWRU archives, as well as photos provided by Gwendolyn Johnson and the Juneteenth Committee, featured CWRU black history, including student activism from the 1960s through 2018 and notable alumni from 1836 through the 1990s. “Imagine how hard it must have been for them back then, yet they graduated," a student mused. “That gives me hope.” 

Slides, shackles and other artifacts from slavery through Jim Crow, the Hip Hop Movement and into the present linked the past with current issues of social justice in Richard Griffin’s Black History 101 Mobile Museum. Professor Griff, formerly a member of the hip hop group Public Enemy, quoted an African proverb. “Until lions have their own historians, tales of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”  It’s important to share our own story.

Spotlight on BSA 

BSA Exec Team (l to r) Kennedi Allen, Rashae Davenport, Shenica Tulloch and Ivan Conard

The Black Student Association (BSA) of the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences enhances the student of color’s experience while pursuing a graduate degree by promoting cultural diversity for the entire Mandel School community through educational seminars, workshops and social opportunities. During the fall semester of 2019, BSA hosted two competitive games of Black Jeopardy to educate the students of the Mandel School on important contributions people of color have made throughout history.
The BSA executive team connects with local schools, churches, nonprofit and for-profit organizations to initiate great relationships between graduate students and the surrounding community. This year, the Mandel School BSA will focus on community economic empowerment, collaboration with local influencers and uplifting the voices of the underrepresented. To learn more about the Mandel School Black Student Association, please visit our website

Exciting Happenings!

African American Artists Alumni Exhibition
The free exhibit is open to the public from February 8 until March 6.
African American Alumni Art Exhibition, sponsored by the Case Western Reserve University Art Education Program, will be on view at the university’s Art Studio (2215 Adelbert Road). 

Curated by Tim Shuckerow, director of Art Education and Art Studio for the College of Arts and Sciences of Case Western Reserve, the exhibit features works, including paintings, drawings, photographs, textiles, and masks, by Anna Arnold (GRS ‘10, art education), Gina Brent (GRS ’92, art education), Danny Carver (GRS ‘81, art history; GRS ‘94, art education), Napoleon Dismuke (GRS ‘01, art education), faculty member Sandra Noble, Cecelia Price (GRS ‘19, art education), Georgio Sabino (GRS ‘09, art education), Travis Williams (GRS ‘17, art education), Jerome White (GRS ‘94, art education) and Tucker White (GRS ‘91, art education).

Sing, My Brother, Sing!  Black Liberation Theology, Christian Hip-Hop, and Youth Ministries
Tuesday, February 18, 3:00-4:15 pm
Clark Hall, Room 206, 11130 Bellflower Road

Dr. David L. Moody, author of Political Melodies in the Pews? The Voice of the Black Christian Rapper in the Twenty-first Century Church, will discuss the emergence of hip-hop based ministries and their impact on Black youth in the Christian church, and provide an introduction to Black liberation theology and nationalism. He'll explore the social politics of difference and the contemporary struggles for identity in religious, educational and cultural settings.  A question and answer period will follow his presentation.

Get in the Game with AAAA!
Saturday, February 29, 6:00 pm

Don’t miss out on an exciting evening of food, fun, and Cleveland Cavaliers basketball. We’ll catch up over heavy appetizers and drinks at Harry Buffalo, then walk over to the Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse to cheer our Cavs to victory. Select this link for more information and to register.

Save the Date- Financial Literacy
The African American Alumni Association in partnership with the Black Student Union is hosting a Financial Literacy Forum on the topics of budgeting, investing and eliminating/decreasing student loan debt on Saturday, March 21, 2020, from 1 pm-3 pm. Additional details are coming soon.

In Memoriam

Les Thornhill (WRC ‘75)

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