Last weekend, the Black Cultural Center (BCC) and the Swarthmore African-American Students Society (SASS) hosted the Black Alumni Celebration, commemorating the 40th anniversary of the founding of SASS and the BCC. Representing over five decades of classes, nearly 200 alumni returned to campus for the celebration.
Among the events that took place on Friday, the alumni had a tour of the new buildings that have been built since their respective graduation. These included David Kemp, Alice Paul, the Lang Center, and even Mertz and Willets for some alumni. Following the tour, the former Swatties had a meet-and-greet to get to know members of other classes and current Swarthmore students, and were later welcomed by Dean Jim Larimore and Maurice Foley ‘82.
Saturday was packed with events, including breakout sessions, small discussion groups, and speaker panels. Political science professor Keith Reeves ’88 lead a panel, “Black Ethical Leadership,” which covered the implications of Barack Obama’s election for African-American in politics, including those politicians who were involved in the civil rights movement and the new generation of leaders who came after them. Reeves also engaged the audience in a discussion about Obama’s presidency and how it will affect the future of the African-American role in politics.
One of the highlights of the weekend was a panel of five of SASS’s founders, who discussed the historic takeover of Parrish in January of 1969. The speakers discussed the conditions for black students at Swarthmore and the need to change the treatment of students and black employees of the College. The panelists explained the events leading up to the takeover, what happened during the week-long occupation, and what they hoped to achieve from it.
“I was inspired and enlightened as I heard the stories of former Swarthmore students as they recounted their experiences in tackling issues of race in the college community. I was especially moved by the panel of alumni from the class of ’69 and ’70, and hearing about the admissions office take-over from their perspective,” said Omari Scott ’12, reflecting on the panel. “Listening to the actual participants discuss the event was extremely rewarding because I was able to hear about aspects of the take-over that I was not able to learn about through the news articles.”
After a large family-style dinner in Upper Tarble, the celebration closed with a performance by the Alumni Gospel Choir, featuring singers from every decade since the seventies.Although this was the first alumni celebration for SASS and the BCC, the organizers hope that it will not be the last.
“This was a journey and a growing experience for me. I put all of my heart into the celebration. It was a dream come true to have something like this come alive in front of your eyes.” said Charmaine Giles ’10, creator and director of this year’s Black Alumni Celebration. “So many people told me that black alumni will never want to come back to Swarthmore, but this celebration shows that they do want to come back. They want to come back for us, the students.”