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Seniors Honored at Gala Celebrating Black Women

By Alice S. Cheng and Kristine E. Guillaume, Crimson Staff Writers

UPDATED: May 1, 2017 at 8:23 p.m.

The Black Men’s Forum honored four Harvard seniors and one professor for their leadership and mentorship on campus at the 23rd annual Celebration of Black Women gala.

Around 225 people attended the celebration, which was held Saturday at the Knafel Center and featured speeches from civil rights activist Tamika D. Mallory and members of Harvard’s black community.

Four Harvard seniors—Olivia Castor ’17, Ezinne Nwankwo ’17, Osaremen F. Okolo ’17, and Laetitia T. Vessah ’17—received leadership awards for their racial justice activism and contributions to black student life.

Students nominated candidates through forms the Black Men’s Forum sent in November, according to BMF Vice President and the event’s chair Michael Reid ’18. After receiving nominations, the boards of black affinity groups on campus—including BMF and the Association of Black Harvard Women—voted on the top nominees.

BMF also named Sarah E. Lewis—an assistant professor of History of Art and Architecture and African and African American Studies—its Faculty Member of the Year, honoring a professor for the first time in the event’s history, Reid said.

“Professor Lewis has done so many things and is so well-educated,” Reid said. “She is again a perfect representation of the type of woman that we want to celebrate at CBW.”

Thalia M. Orphee, the outgoing president of ABHW, said all of the women honored at the event were known for their contributions to campus.

“The awardees are really known for the mentorship to the community, whether internally or externally. And I think that the awardees yesterday may not be doing a leadership position within a black community, but they made a presence on campus as black women,” Orphee said.

This year, Orphee and Reid said, BMF sought to make the annual event more inclusive by de-emphasizing its focus on gender and eliminating the event entrance fee.

“One of the things about CBW is the fact that, again, it’s a large emphasis on black women, but implicitly, what that does is put too much emphasis on gender and gender being the distinction between how to celebrate one another,” Reid said.

Event organizers also reworked a longstanding tradition of giving handwritten cards to black women who attended the event. According to Reid, the cards had formerly only been written by BMF members, but, this year, BMF allowed anyone to write a card regardless of gender.

“The point of CBW itself is that there is no one type of black woman. There is no one criteria or credential to honor a black woman,” Reid said.

Okolo said the event provided a place for black women to have “final moments of reflection” together on their accomplishments and impact on the College.

“As my time at Harvard is coming to a was really nice to have a moment where I could culminate the work I’ve done and what I’ve contributed to campus,” she said.

—Staff writer Alice S. Cheng can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @alicescheng.

—Staff writer Kristine E. Guillaume can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @krisguillaume.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: May 1, 2017

A previous version of this article misspelled the name of Osaremen F. Okolo ’17.

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