More than 800 alumni registered for the 2018 Black Alumni Reunion, bringing the alumni and their friends and family back to Oxford to celebrate. The four-day weekend full of concerts, panels and galas reunited friends and highlighted the impact African-Americans have made on the university.
Notable events from the weekend included Thursday’s #BAR18 stand up comedy show, Friday’s State of the University address and Black-Out Concert, Saturday’s “Alumni Experiences Through the Decades” panel, picnic and Black Alumni Reunion Awards Gala and Sunday’s closing breakfast.
According to event organizer Torie Marion White, the weekend served as a way for alumni to reconnect with those from their pasts as well as foster new relationships with current students.
“This weekend will give you the opportunity to explore the remarkable progress that has taken place here at the University of Mississippi and to connect with current African-American students to strengthen the Ole Miss alumni network,” White wrote in her welcome letter to attendees.
Saturday’s program featured stories about Ole Miss experiences from alumni at the “Alumni Experiences Through the Decades” panel.
The panel featured James Meredith, the first African-American to enroll at Ole Miss; Trevor K. Williams-Martin, CEO and founder of Book and Bag Travel; Ryan Upshaw, assistant dean of student services for the engineering school; Teresa Jones, deputy executive assistant for U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer; and Nic Lott, the first black ASB president. The panel was moderated by Kim Dandridge, the first black female ASB president.
“It’s been great to walk around campus and see minority population has increased drastically,” Lott said.
Panelists also emphasized the importance of staying connected to the university after graduation to foster connections with fellow alumni and current students.
The event closed with Meredith reflecting on how far the university has come and where it still needs to go.
Meredith was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at Saturday’s Black Alumni Reunion Awards Gala.
The Dr. Jeanette Jennings “Trailblazer” Award, named after the university’s first black faculty member, recognizes alumni who served a vital role in the progress of black faculty, staff, alumni and students on campus. Assistant provost and associate math professor Donald Cole and Jacquline Vinson, project coordinator for the Louis Stokes Mississippi Alliance for Minority Participation IMAGE program and co-principal investigator of the Bridge STEM program, received the award.
Former UM athletes Terrence Metcalf, Robert “Ben” Williams and Peggie Gillom-Granderson were presented with Celebrated Athlete awards, and Reginald H. Turner, Dr. Rashad Ali and Barbara L. Howard were each honored with the Rev. Wayne Johnson Community and Civic Award. Rose Jackson Flenorl and Markeeva Morgan received Alumni Achievement awards.
On Thursday, the weekend kicked off with a Greek stroll at The Pavilion, an alumni networking panel and a comedy show that featured UM alumnus Karlous Miller of MTV’s “Wild ‘n Out.”
At the “Success Looks Like Me” panel Thursday afternoon, Ole Miss alumna and former White House intern Teresa Jones said her time at the university helped prepare her to enter the workforce as a minority.
“I had all of these different circles of people who came from different backgrounds, and it prepared me for my professional career,” Jones said. “It does not matter what room I’m in or who’s in the room, because I know who I am and I have dealt with this before time and time again for four years.”
Norris E.J. Edney III, National Pan-Hellenic Council coordinator of Greek affairs, moderated the panel.
“These panelists – when I look at their bios, these are my aspirations,” he said.
Friday’s schedule included more events featuring prominent alumni as well as the continuation of the “More than a Month” project. The project was started in 2015 by then-student Summer Wrigley to reinforce the idea that black history and voices shouldn’t be contained to just Black History Month and that black history is still in the making.
The Black Student Union and Center for Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement partnered to host a photoshoot and interview lounge during which African-American alumni could share their Ole Miss experiences for the “More than a Month” event.
“The goal is to vocalize that black people, people of color … this is an everyday thing for us. It’s not something that should be celebrated in one month,” Black Student Union secretary Zacchaeus McEwen said. “Another thing is intersectionality amongst black people. A lot of people don’t realize this, but we are diverse. We all have different experiences.”
Ruth Ball, an Oxford native and 1976 UM graduate, recounted helping to charter one of the first black sororities on campus.
“The university was very supportive because they wanted black students to feel included,” Ball said. “Make every student feel welcomed here. This is an institution of higher learning, and everyone is needed at this university for it to grow.”
At Friday’s “Real Talk, Day of Dialogue” panel, both current students and alumni shared candid stories about their experiences at a predominantly white institution.
Brenda Luckett, a class of 1981 alumna, was on the panel.
“I learned how to conduct business in a manner that gets things done because I had to maneuver my way through the system at the University of Mississippi,” Luckett said. “I learned more in the Lyceum than I did in my classes.”
Current students shared their stories of trying to find places where they fit in on campus, and eventually creating the space themselves.
Senior Malik Pridgeon recounted how he created Queer People of Color on campus in order to find his niche, and senior Zacchaeus McEwen reflected on being one of only three African- Americans in Air Force ROTC at the university.
Though some panelists outlined changes they sought within the university, others thought that African-American contributions had already changed Ole Miss.
“I wouldn’t change anything about the University of Mississippi because we already changed the university,” Luckett said.
Friday also featured the State of the University address, during which university leaders and administration remarked on progress at the university.
Katrina Caldwell, vice chancellor for diversity and community engagement, discussed the importance of understanding others’ stories.
“There are a lot of people who want to tell our stories,” Caldwell said. “There are a lot of people who think they own the story of the University of Mississippi and they have the right to tell it. We own our own story, and it’s important for us to embrace that.”
Friday’s events concluded with music at the Black-Out Concert, which featured performers Keke Wyatt and Jon B. and was hosted by UM alumnus Willie Morton Jr.
Throughout the weekend, attendees noted how happy they were to be back at their alma mater.
“This was a great atmosphere to see fellow black alumni and friends and be able to see everyone again,” Etoshia Jackson said at Thursday’s comedy show.
Others were impressed by the breadth of events offered at this year’s reunion.
“My husband and I are both alumni and have attended every Black Alumni Reunion,” Terry Hilliard, class of 1983, said. “This year is holding a lot more events than past years.”