Alumni share their UM experiences ahead of Black Alumni Reunion weekend

Posted on Mar 2 2018 - 7:59am by Kajah Kennedy and Maddie McGee

The 2018 Black Alumni Reunion kicked off a four-day weekend yesterday with a wide range of activities including an alumni and student networking panel and a standup comedy show, underscoring this year’s expanded programming.

The Black Alumni Reunion, which takes place every three years, draws as many as 800 attendees from across the country and is deliberately designed to feel less like a conference and “more like a family reunion,” according to class of 2017 graduate Kalah Walker.

“As a current San Francisco resident, being in Mississippi will bring up some interesting memories and perspectives, many of which I am thankful that I no longer have to deal with,” Walker said. “Being a black woman in Oxford, Mississippi, wasn’t the most comfortable adventure, but I was well-supported by my peers while I was there.”

Given the university’s tense history, being black at Ole Miss came with its own set of difficulties for some.

Current MBA candidate Derrick R. Martin Jr. said he originally thought being black at Ole Miss meant he had something to prove.

“I was walking in the footsteps of those who had come before, individuals such as Mr. James Meredith, who said that they would not let anything or anyone stand in their way of getting an education,” Martin said. “There were those who had fought against violence, racism and segregation for me to have the opportunity to attend this university. So, I felt very proud to be a young black man attending the University of Mississippi.”

Martin and many other attendees look forward to the chance to reflect on their experiences from their time as students. He recalled the importance of leading a 2014 die-in at the Student Union in protest of police brutality against minorities.

“During this protest, I had the support and participation of members of the NHPC, the NAACP and others,” he said. “Leading this protest was one of the most important things I have done in my life.”

More stories of events that shaped alumni will be shared throughout the weekend at panels such as “Real Talk, Real Day of Dialogue,” where current students can share their stories about being black at Ole Miss and receive encouragement from alumni at “Alumni Experiences Through the Decades,” where alumni will discuss how their Ole Miss experiences have shaped their lives.

Torie Marion White, assistant director of the Ole Miss Alumni Association and 2006 graduate, said she is looking forward to reconnecting with friends from her time at Ole Miss.

“I’m excited about seeing my line sisters – the women I was initiated into my sorority with,” she said. “We pretty much grew up over two-and-a-half years together, during a pivotal time in everyone’s life, being 20-something college kids that are just trying to find their purpose in the world, so it’s been weird to be away from them for so long.”

The events of the weekend are not only reserved for alumni. Current students are able to network with previous generations, something alumnus Marion White said can be life-changing.

“I was in the 10th grade in high school and was selected to do a math and science camp in Weatherford, Oklahoma. Dr. (Donald) Cole happened to be one of the speakers for this camp,” White said. “He talked about Ole Miss a lot, (and at the time), I wasn’t planning on staying in state, so I can attribute me deciding to stay home and stay local to meeting Dr. Cole in the 10th grade.”

Other events planned for the weekend include a Black Alumni Reunion Gala, a picnic with more than 1,500 expected to attend and a State of the University address. A full-course theater brunch, step show and devotional service are also scheduled.

With all of the time, planning and dedication that has been put into this weekend, event planners said they hope it is a memorable moment for attendees.

“I would like to meet new (students) and hear their stories, and hopefully they can come up with fresh ideas we can use for the next reunion,” White said. “We’re definitely looking for feedback on how to make this better for everybody. I really just hope everybody has a great time.”

This article was submitted to The Daily Mississippian from an advanced reporting class.