Harvard Women’s Group Honors Exceptional Black Men

BOSTON—Soulful jazz melodies and rhythmic African drum beats set the tone for Friday’s fifth annual tribute to black men.

About 200 people gathered at Boston’s Museum of Afro-American History for the event, sponsored by the Association of Black Harvard Women (ABHW).

Rashan Jibowu ’06, Olushola B. Olorunnipa ’05 and R. Gerard McGreary ’04 received the group’s Man of the Year Class Award.

Nominees were “model leaders within the community” who “embodied positive and honorable qualities of black manhood,” according to former ABHW president Kimberxly H. Levy ’03, who helped to coordinate the event.

After being nominated by their peers, honorees were chosen according to the strength of submitted personal statements and their contributions to the black community.

As recipients stepped up to the stage to receive their awards, presenters from the ABHW delivered speeches, which included anecdotes and other expressions of affection.

ABHW also awarded four graduating seniors with the Senior Class Outstanding Achievement Award.

Honorees included Brandon A. Gayle ’03, Alonzo Sherman ’03, Justin Alexander ’03 and Issac Weiler ’02-’03.

As she presented a plaque to Gayle, the former president of the Black Students Association (BSA), Levy praised Gayle for his pivotal role in strengthening the group.

She pointed to his leadership in spearheading a response to Kenan Professor of Government Harvey C. Mansfield ’53, who claimed in 2001 that grade inflation at Harvard was linked to the influx of black students in the 1970s.

Gayle organized a sit-in in Mansfield’s class and coordinated meetings between the BSA and the College administration.

Sherman, president of the Black Men’s Forum (BMF) and student coordinator of the Undergraduate Minority Recruitment Program, has been active in the BMF since his first year at Harvard.

The association recognized Justin Alexander ’03 for his achievements as the BSA’s senior representative and an active mentor in the Dearborn After-School Program. As the former president of the Black Men’s Forum, Weiler has also served as a mentor to several younger black undergraduates.

“I was so touched,” said Weiler, who received a standing ovation from the audience. “I don’t know that I deserved all that applause, but thank you.”

The ABHW also looked beyond Harvard when choosing this year’s award recipients.

Adeyemi Owolewa, a student at Boston Latin School who plans to enter the College this fall with the Class of 2007, received the Black Men of Achievement Scholarship.

And Kevin Powell, a writer and political activist who was a founding staff member at Vibe magazine, received the group’s annual Vanguard Award for his exceptional leadership.

In his keynote address, Powell celebrated black men but also used the opportunity to address self-hatred wit, affirmative action and notions of manhood. Powell also reminded the black men present of the significance of their role as college students in the greater black community.

“You’re going to school for all the others who can’t go,” he said.

The Boston-based Silimbo D’Adeane West African Dance and Drum Company encouraged audience members to participate in the traditional dance as they performed on stage.

Though the tribute has been held at Harvard in previous years, this year coordinators chose an off-campus venue.

But attendance did not suffer, Levy said, noting that the audience of approximately 200 was “perfect for the type of genuine exchange we encourage with this tribute.”

The ABHW event follows the BMF’s annual presentation of its “woman of the year” award this March. Actress Phylicia Rashad, best known for her role opposite Bill Cosby on “The Cosby Show,” received this year’s award.

—Staff writer Cassandra Cummings can be reached at cummings@fas.harvard.edu.