Spring 2023 AAAA Newsletter

The Spring 2023 issue of the African American Alumni Association of Case Western Reserve University newsletter brings you a note from the president, reflections on the Weekend in Washington D.C., upcoming events to add to your calendar and much more.

President's letter

Fellow members of the African American Alumni Association of Case Western Reserve University,

I am absolutely invigorated after a very successful trip to Washington, D.C., in March. What an amazing weekend full of learning, fellowship and memorable experiences, as we recognized and celebrated the wisdom and accomplishments of African Americans through the ages. It was a long time coming. Immediate Past President Vera Perkins-Hughes worked alongside former Assistant Director of Affinity Groups Christal Crosby to set the vision, and I could not be more honored to see it come to fruition. 

Thank you to everyone who attended, and a special thank-you to President Eric W. Kaler and Mrs. Karen F. Kaler for joining us. We also extend our appreciation to the staff of The Alumni Association of Case Western Reserve University, particularly Brad Crews, Sara Lyons and Katie Kimble, for all of their hard work and dedication. This program could not have happened without your support. 

If you weren’t able to join us in D.C., don’t worry! You can read all about it here, and there will be many other opportunities to connect. Whether it is attending our events, supporting one of our board committees or all of the above, there is something for everyone. 

Though the trip to D.C. may have been our main focus in March, I’d be remiss if I didn’t recognize Women’s History Month. The African American Alumni Association Board has grown thanks to the women leaders before me, and we are at a stage in history where our country is doing the same. As I think of current women in leadership such as Vice President Kamala Harris, Associate Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson and others, I also think of those who came before them, including our very own Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones (FSM ’71, LAW ’74), Cleveland Councilwoman Fannie Mae Lewis and Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman in Congress. While there is still work to be done to secure the rights of women across the world, I am confident in the change agents working to build a brighter future.

As I reflect on the programming of the past few weeks, I could not be more thankful for this community that is the African American Alumni Association. 

Tiarra Thomas wearing a blazer and glasses smiles at the camera

Tiarra Thomas (CWR ’12)
President, African American Alumni Association of Case Western Reserve University

Weekend in Washington, D.C.

Attendees of the African American Alumni Association's Weekend in Washington, D.C., gather for a group photo

Last month, the African American Alumni Association of Case Western Reserve made its first out-of-state trip since it became an official university affinity group in 2009. Their pilgrimage to Washington, D.C., in March harkened back to the group’s early days, when alumni would organize reunions around the country in each other’s homes. 

This time, they had the logistical support of CWRU staff and were joined by President Eric W. Kaler and Mrs. Karen F. Kaler, in addition to D.C./Baltimore Chapter alumni. And while they didn’t meet in a house, they began the weekend by hearing from a local alumna.

Elaine Nichols (SAS ‘80), supervisory curator at the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), kicked things off with a presentation about her work and the following day, attendees were given access to the museum for a self-guided tour.

Bookending the trip was a breakfast with New Mexico alumna Bettye Kearse (MED ’79), author of The Other Madisons: The Lost History of a President's Black Family, who shared her story and a vibrant discussion with Mrs. Kaler.

“I’m a history nerd and going to the NMAAHC was a personal goal of mine,” said Tiarra Thomas (CWR ’12), president of the African American Alumni Association. “It was incredible to learn so much about our history we wouldn’t know otherwise, and to share that with each other. The fact that we were able to come together in that way was absolutely amazing.” 

If you missed the weekend, Thomas encourages you to start getting involved however you can—with the university and with each other. “We have a strong network of alumni all over the country,” she said. “Take advantage of that! Find your CWRU people, wherever you are, and keep those connections alive.”

More than 100 attendees enjoyed the weekend’s activities, and some shared their reflections with us. Read more about each event and check out photos from the trip.

Go team!

The CWRU Black Law Students Association Mock Trial Team has made us proud yet again! 

In a thrilling but unsurprising run, the Case Western Reserve team took first place at the Midwest Regional Constance Baker Motley Mock Trial Competition in Chicago. Two weeks later, they secured second place at the national competition in Washington, D.C. Thomas Lipker, Aanya Myrie-Silburn, Nneka Onyekwuluje, Xavier Poplawski, Tyler Tipton and Ryn Wayman comprised this year’s team.

A group of students pose for a photo after a BLSA mock trial in 2023

There is a reason legal dramas have dominated primetime television the past 70 years, with icons such as Annalise Keating, Claire Huxtable, Joan Clayton and Olivia Pope capturing the nation’s attention just as much as—if not more so—than their white counterparts.

As Judge Michelle Earley (LAW ’99) once said to a room full of first-year BLSA students: “Nobody can tell a story like Black people.” But unlike actors, team CWRU had to deliver Emmy-level performances and win based on the real, unscripted intricacies of the law. No disrespect to television’s leading lawyers, but we’ve never seen any of them perform a reverse 403 balancing test in response to a real time objection.

The Constance Baker Motley Mock Trial Competition stands apart from the rest because it celebrates the legacy of Black lawyers, who make up just 5% of all lawyers. The challenging environment reflects the fact that the very brightest Black lawyers aren’t merely competing to win—they’re competing to get free. In a profession that beholds precedent yet ignores how the subjugation of Black people molded that precedent, the skill set required to get free isn’t traditionally on the law school menu.

BLSA Mock Trial competitions serve as environments for Black law students across the country to spar with one another, test ideas and even get burned a few times, all before it really counts. There is a certain confidence that competitors gain that they carry with them long after their mock trial years, empowering them through the challenges they will face throughout their careers.

It is undeniable that team CWRU’s fire is sustained by the attorneys that came before them, including Stephanie Tubbs Jones  (FSM ’71, LAW ’74), Fred Gray (LAW ’54) and Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb (LAW ’18). The team, coached by McClellon Cox (LAW ’19), also benefited from unfettered access to Ayesha Bell Hardaway (LAW ’04) and Bryan Adamson (LAW ’90).

The African American Alumni Association is incredibly proud of this year’s team and their second place finish. This year’s team consisted of first- and second-year law students eligible to compete next year, so we know they’ll be entering the 2023-2024 school year hungry for that national championship title.

Written by Makela Hayford (CWR ’18, LAW ’22)

Beyond CWRU: Professional tips from Black alumni

A group of Black students and alumni gather after an event
(Panelists from L to R) Arik Smith (CWR 19), Musa Hakim Jr. (CWR '20), Jada Harrison (CWR '22), Allan Willmon (CWR '21), Clarence Armstrong (CWR '21), Adiah Bailey (CWR '20), Cielle Brady (CWR '22) 

In a collaborative effort, the African American Society, Black Student Union and National Society of Black Engineers hosted a panel event on March 9, featuring accomplished Black CWRU alumni from various professional fields. The event provided an opportunity for more than 40 students to engage with the panelists, who shared valuable insights on navigating careers as Black professionals, leveraging CWRU resources for postgraduate success, and addressing common postcollegiate challenges, such as imposter syndrome and self-care. 

Key takeaways from the discussions included the importance of authenticity in the workplace, seeking advocates and allies to amplify one's voice, and embracing one's unique journey without comparison. The event was met with great feedback and concluded by providing students with networking opportunities, potential mentorship connections and practical support from Case Western Reserve University’s Career Center.

Written by Arik Smith, (CWR '19)

Mark your calendars

Hudson Relays, April 29

Join The Alumni Association in person or online for the Hudson Relays—CWRU’s annual 26-mile relay around campus dating back to 1910. We also want your suggestions for a team slogan! Send them to alumnirelations@case.edu.

Profiles of Inclusive Excellence Speaker Series: Noël Voltz, May 10

The African American Alumni Association, in partnership with the Office of Inclusion, Diversity, and Equal Opportunity and the African and African American studies minor, invites you to join us virtually for this upcoming Profiles of Inclusive Excellence Speaker Series: Noël Voltz from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. ET on May 10.

Black Graduation, May 16

Join us in the Tinkham Veale University Center Ballroom for Black Graduation, Tuesday, May 16 from 6 to 8 p.m. Registration information coming soon.

Stay Connected

We want to keep up with you! Tell us your news, promote your business and share ideas for future newsletters. Email alumnirelations@case.edu with your name, graduation information (year, school/program) and any relevant links.