Cecilia C. Ekperi ’09

As freshman, a leader of black community; ‘She had a grace about her’

Cecilia C. Ekperi ’09, a leader of Harvard’s black community remembered by friends for her outgoing personality, died July 6, 2006, after she fell ill during a basketball game. She was 19.

Friends remembered Ekperi, who lived in Greenough as a freshman and was going to live in Winthrop House, for her energy and her involvement in Harvard’s student groups.

“Whenever I think of Cecilia, I think of laughter and joy and happiness. She loved to talk and have a really good time,” said Sarah Lockridge-Steckel ’09, who was Ekperi’s blockmate.

“She always added so much to whatever we were doing, whether it was academics or a party or just goofing around,” Lockridge-Steckel said. “She was very much the life of what we did.”

Another friend, Laurel A. Macey, said that Ekperi “was very outgoing, exuberant, very outspoken, laughed easily. She had a good sense of humor and dedication to whatever she did.”

Ekperi, Lockridge-Steckel, and Macey became close friends last year through the leadership posts they held in the Freshman Black Table. Ekperi was the organization’s social chair, while Lockridge-Steckel was the president and Macey the secretary.

Ekperi was also a member of BlackCAST, and served as sound technician for the group’s April 2006 performance of “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf/For Black Boys Who Have Considered Homicide When the Streets Were Too Much,” at the Loeb Experimental Theater.

She was also a member of the Association of Black Harvard Women.

Ekperi was playing basketball at the National Cathedral School in Washington D.C. with three other friends when—after taking a shot and landing on her feet—she sat down on the ground, and then proceeded to lay prone on the court. An ambulance arrived, but could not rescue her. A friend of Ekperi who was present at the scene, Patrick Jean Baptiste ’09, said he later spoke to a doctor who said she likely died of an undiagnosed heart problem that was not detected during physical examinations.

Ekperi was an athlete who played basketball all of her life, Jean Baptiste said. He and Ekperi had become close friends over the course of last summer.

“The only thing that brings me some type of comfort is that she was doing something she loved when she died,” he said. “Even on her way to the court she was saying that basketball was something that was very important to her.”

At a memorial service in September, Macey remembered her friend’s warmth and generosity of spirit.

“She had a grace about her that very few people are blessed with,” Macey said.

Freshman year, Macey recalled, Ekperi sent a group of friends a text message that simply read: “Just a reminder, you are beautiful. Have a great day!”

Ekperi, who was of Nigerian descent, is survived by her parents and an older sister, Macey said.