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‘Great Minds’ Pack Black Alum Event

Honoring luminaries of past and present, Black Alumni Weekend also looks to future

Cambridge Mayor Kenneth E. Reeves ’72 and Gerard McGeary ’04 took part
in the “Politics and the New Millenium” discussion Saturday. (Courtesy
Kimberly Levy)<br>
Cambridge Mayor Kenneth E. Reeves ’72 and Gerard McGeary ’04 took part in the “Politics and the New Millenium” discussion Saturday. (Courtesy Kimberly Levy)<br>
By Lulu Zhou, Crimson Staff Writer

In 1952, Harvard’s graduating class included just four blacks. A half-century later, nearly 700 black alums from the classes of 1949 to 2006 packed Boston’s second-largest ballroom for the keynote dinner of Black Alumni Weekend.

The event marked the largest gathering of Harvard’s black graduates, who reunited this weekend under the theme of “Roots and Revision: Revitalizing Harvard’s Black Community.”

“This has been one of the most meaningful gathering of human beings I’ve ever been part of,” said Baratunde R. Thurston ’99, master of ceremonies at Saturday’s dinner. “It’s inspirational and powerful, it’s urgent, it’s a real call to action here.”

The night’s honorees were former Senior Admissions Officer John S. Harwell, former Assistant Dean of Radcliffe College Doris Mitchell, and Director of the W.E.B. DuBois Institute for African and African American Research Henry L. “Skip” Gates, Jr. Gates also presented the DuBois medal to founders of the Kuumba Singers.

The weekend started with a career fair on Friday and continued on Saturday, when Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71 addressed the attendees with an update on undergraduate life. The weekend culminated on Sunday with a performance by the Kuumba Singers. Featuring panels led by notable alumni from law, medicine, media, philanthropy, and religion, as well as current Harvard faculty and administrators, the program offered alums a sampling of the fields into which their former peers have entered and encouraged them to mobilize an alumni network to provide support for current students.

“The importance is the connectivity,” said event co-chair Anne M. Morris ’04, who organized the weekend with Brandon A. Gayle ’03 and Jennifer N. Wynn ’06. “How can we coalesce and really make things happen strategically and collectively?”

The sessions included Cambridge mayor Kenneth E. Reeves ’72 speaking about “Politics in the New Millennium,” and Emmy-winning CNN White House correspondent Suzanne M. Malveaux ’89 and President of Entertainment for BET Reginald A. Hudlin ’83 showing clips for a discussion of “Representations of Blacks in the Media.”

Calling the weekend a “great minds movement,” Af-Am Department Chair Evelyn B. Higginbotham said that the weekend served “as a collective for discussing the issues that are current in our world today for African American people and people of African descent.”

At a bustling black-tie affair in the Cambridge Marriott, keynote speaker Stephanie K. Bell-Rose ’79 suggested a model of sustained alumni engagementent to Harvard and its black community.

Bell-Rose, the founding president of The Goldman Sachs Foundation and a managing director of Goldman Sachs, suggested a three-step “collective strategic philanthropic approach” consisting of a Harvard Black Alumni Fund, selective social investments, and investment of financial, intellectual, and social capital.

“It’s by working collectively and strategically with varied capital that we can have the greatest impact far exceeding the reach of any one individual,” she said.

“There is truly no better endowed group, nor a better-looking one, I should add,” Bell-Rose said to laughs. “No group can better extend the powerful legacy of philanthropy and leadership.”

—Staff writer Lulu Zhou can be reached at luluzhou@fas.harvard.edu.

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