Alumni are returning to Gambier Sept. 25-28 to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the Black Student Union (BSU) at Kenyon.
Like many others who will be coming back to campus, James Greenwood ’02 remembers the BSU as an essential part of his college experience. “The BSU was such an important part of my time at Kenyon and my development as a young adult,” he recalled. “The connections and friendships I made in the group are still some of the closest relationships in my life.”
“One of the most significant things about the BSU,” he added, “was that it was such a diverse group of black students. They had lots of different ways to be black yet still shared a sense of commonality and collective purpose.”
For Melzetta Moody ’05, her reasons for joining the organization were personal. "It served as an oasis of calm amid the chaos,” Moody said. “Whether it was having a group of students who understood my struggles, having help dealing with racial issues on campus, or having a place like the Ujima Imani Lounge to study, the BSU and its network of institutional support was instrumental in my success at Kenyon and thereafter."
Officially established in 1970, the BSU addressed the need for support for the growing number of African-American students at Kenyon. Several of those students came together in the fall of 1969 to create not only the organization, but also a list of four requests that were delivered to the College’s administration: academic courses dealing with the black experience; black upper-class counselors; BSU representation on the admissions committee; and a BSU gathering place.
The group, with a charter membership of 17 students, was assigned a space on the second floor of Peirce Hall that it named the Ujima Imani Lounge. (Ujima is the Swahili word for collective work; Imani is the word for faith.) For many years, one of the most distinctive features of the lounge was a mural by Willie Leon Haslip ’74. The mural was, unfortunately, painted over, as the result of misunderstanding by a contractor during the renovation and restoration of Peirce Hall in 2008.
As part of the 45th anniversary celebration, the BSU and its alumni will rededicate the lounge in memory of Ruben Edward Pope III ’70 at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 27. Pope, who died earlier this year, was a leader of Kenyon’s African-American students and a force for change, especially with regard to increased diversity within the faculty and student body.
Registration for the anniversary celebration begins Thursday, Sept. 25, at 5 p.m. at the Kenyon Inn. On Friday, Sept. 26, attendees will be encouraged to tour campus and visit classes with current BSU members. Other activities include: