Pitt's AAAC to Celebrate Sankofa Homecoming Weekend 2010, Blue, Gold, and Black: It Takes a Village, Oct. 28-31

Issue Date: 
October 25, 2010
Gail AustinGail Austin

The University of Pittsburgh African American Alumni Council (AAAC) will celebrate Sankofa Homecoming Weekend 2010: Blue, Gold, and Black: It Takes a Village by honoring five Pitt alumni and several Pitt and local organizations with the Sankofa Award during AAAC’s Fellowship Brunch and Sankofa Awards Presentation to be held at 11:30 a.m. Oct. 31 in the Pittsburgh Grand Hotel (formerly the Hilton), 600 Commonwealth Place, Downtown. The event is part of the University’s Homecoming 2010, taking place Oct. 28-31.

This year’s Sankofa Awards carry the theme It Takes a Village. Five members of the University community who have exhibited outstanding educational support and service to students of African descent will receive the honor and nine University and community organizations that have made significant contributions to the success of Pitt African American students will be recognized.

Gail Austin, former director of Pitt’s Academic Resource Center (ARC) who retired after 42 years of service in various University positions, will be given a special Sankofa Jean Hamilton Walls Award. Austin is being recognized with the Walls Award for her commitment to enhancing diversity, particularly regarding African American students; for her dedication to ensuring the educational success of thousands of students who matriculated through Project A (a 1968 Pitt summer preparatory program for African American students), Malcolm-Martin-Marcus Scholars Program, University Community Education Programs, and University Challenge for Excellence Program; and for her devotion to the advancement of partnerships within the larger African American community.

Austin received her BA in French literature from Pitt and has done graduate work in psychology and anthropology. As a student in the late 1960s, she was inspired by the civil rights movement and by visits to Pitt by Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders in the movement.

Since then, Austin has been a peace and justice advocate both at the University and in the community. She was named a winner of the 2010 Iris Marion Young Award for Political Engagement, an honor inaugurated in 2008 by Pitt’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs and the Women’s Studies Program to recognize those who work to promote social justice and democracy. She also received the 2008 Thomas Merton Center New Person Award for her efforts promoting peace and justice. With other activists from Pitt and the community, Austin helped form the Afro-American Cultural Society to increase the number of Black students, staff, and faculty at the University.

She has served on the Pitt Divestment Coalition and was active in Pittsburghers Against Apartheid, the national Free South Africa Movement, the No Dope Coalition, and African Americans Against War. Austin’s latest work focuses on Black Voices for Peace, an organization that opposes the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. She is president of the Kente Arts Alliance, a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to bringing quality arts programming to underserved communities. Since her retirement in April, Austin has been involved in environmental issues, including supporting biodiversity initiatives in her Manchester neighborhood.

“I am grateful to the AAAC for recognizing me with the Jean Hamilton Walls Award,” said Austin. “It is truly an honor, but I must say that it has been a collective achievement inspired both by the need to increase diversity at Pitt and by the timeless words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights pioneers resonating in my mind.”

The award is named in honor of Pitt alumnus Jean Hamilton Walls, the first Black woman to earn a bachelor’s degree at Pitt. Walls, a Pittsburgh native, graduated in 1910 with a BS in mathematics and physics. She also became the first Black woman to earn a PhD at Pitt in 1938. Throughout a distinguished educational career spanning more than four decades, Walls taught at such notable institutions as Central State, Southern, and Wilberforce universities.

Honorees receiving the Sankofa Award this year are James Cox, director of Pitt’s University Counseling Center; Linda Williams Moore, director of Pitt’s Office of Cross Cultural and Leadership Development; Deborah Walker, student conduct officer in Pitt’s Division of Student Affairs; and RaShall Brackney, commander in the City of Pittsburgh Bureau of Police.

Organizational Sankofa awards will be presented under three classifications: University Departments and Organizations, with awards going to Pitt’s Roberto Clemente Minority Business Association, EXCEL, Academic Resource Center, Center for Minority Health, and Office of Residence Life; Community, Civic and Business Organizations, with awards going to the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh and Merrill Lynch; and Faith Institutions, with awards going to Mt. Ararat Baptist Church and Macedonia Baptist Church.

A highlight of the festivities is the Homecoming premiere of the documentary Blue Gold and Black: From Doorway to Distinction, to be held from 7:30 to 9 p.m. Oct. 29 in the Third Floor Lecture Room, Alumni Hall. Based on a treatment written by Robert Hill, Pitt’s vice chancellor for public affairs, and produced by the University’s Office of Public Affairs, the film tells the story of the 180-year experience of Black men and women at Pitt.

The AAAC Apple Seed Project, an annual community service event, will take place from 8:30 a.m. to noon Oct. 29, with participants sharing their time and talent with students in the Pittsburgh Public Schools. This year’s event is cohosted with Pitt’s Black Action Society, National Pan-Hellenic Council, and Blue and Gold Society.

Throughout Homecoming weekend, Pitt’s AAAC will host numerous events for the entire University community. These activities will include Rhyme, Rhythm, and Rapture: Blackline Magazine Release Party and Poetry Slam at 8:30 p.m. Oct. 28 in the Frick Fine Arts Building; and Rejoice in the Miracle, the AAAC worship service, at 10 a.m. Oct. 31 in the Pittsburgh Grand Hotel.