Pitt African American Alumni Council Marks 40 Years of Diversity Initiatives

Issue Date: 
October 12, 2009
Linda Wharton-BoydLinda Wharton-Boyd

During the Oct. 22-25 Sankofa Homecoming Weekend, Pitt’s African American Alumni Council (AAAC) will celebrate the many strides in diversity the University has made over the past four decades. As part of that celebration, the AAAC is launching the public phase of a $3 million campaign to provide critical financial aid directly to students from underrepresented groups through three funds: the Bebe Moore Campbell Scholarship Fund, the Jack L. Daniel Endowed Book Fund, and the AAAC Endowed Scholarship Fund.

Late Pitt alumnus Bebe Moore Campbell (EDUC ’71) was a nationally acclaimed best-selling author and Pitt trustee. Distinguished Service Professor of Communication Jack L. Daniel, who will participate in the AAAC celebration, is a Pitt alumnus (A&S ’63, ’65G, ’68G), Pitt’s former vice provost for undergraduate studies and dean of students, and a Pitt student leader during the 1960s.

The celebration of 40 years is tied to 1969, when a Black student group known as the Black Action Society (BAS) occupied the University’s computer center and called for the University to address the inadequate number of Black students, faculty, administrators, and staff; to provide academic support and resources for Black students; and to recognize the significance of African American life and culture on the campus. These areas have been the subject of ongoing and effective institutional efforts over the course of the intervening years.

“In recent years, Pitt has had an aggressive diversity program, gaining distinction through its prominent African American faculty, scholars, and researchers; its students, who have achieved high academic success as Truman, Marshall, and Rhodes scholars; its service to diverse local and national communities; and its strong academic and distinctive cultural programs, including the Kuntu Repertory Theatre and the internationally renowned annual Jazz Seminar and Concert,” said Pitt Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg. “In addition, there are more than 13,000 Black Pitt alumni, and they are represented in a broad cross-section of professional disciplines throughout the nation and around the world. Among them is the 2004 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, Wangari Muta Maathai, who earned her Master of Science degree in our School of Arts and Sciences in 1965.”

“This 40-year celebration is a very timely and significant event in the life of this great University, and I hope that what has happened at Pitt in recent decades will set a standard and be a model for other academic institutions to follow in fulfilling their diversity agendas,” commented AAAC President Linda Wharton-Boyd (A&S ’72, ‘75G, ‘79G), principal of the Wharton Group national and international communications consulting firm and chief of staff and chief communications officer for D.C. Council member Michael A. Brown. “Chancellor Nordenberg is to be commended for his leadership, vision, and unflinching commitment to diversity at the University.”

AAAC’s homecoming—“Blue, Gold, and Black: The Colors of Celebration—40 Years of African American Pride, Progress, and Partnership With the University of Pittsburgh”—ties Pitt’s blue and gold school colors to the Black heritage of the University. The Sankofa sponsor for the event is UPMC Health Plan, and the Pride sponsor is Broadway Consolidated Construction of Chicago. The AAAC celebration will feature numerous activities and events that highlight diversity initiatives at Pitt over the past four decades. Among these events are:

• A business networking reception for alumni business owners and entrepreneurs from 8 to 11 p.m. Oct. 22 at Bossa Nova, 123 7th St., Downtown;

• The “Umoja” Unity Breakfast with Pitt African American students, faculty, administrators, staff, and community members from 8:30 to 10 a.m. Oct. 23 in Pitt’s William Pitt Union (WPU);

• The Annual Appleseed Community Service Project, from 8:30 a.m. to noon Oct. 23, in which Pitt alumni share their talents with students in Pittsburgh public and charter schools;

• A Nostalgia Campus Tour from 10:30 a.m. to noon Oct. 23, with transportation departing from the WPU;

• A 1-3 p.m. Oct. 23 panel discussion titled “The Computer Center: Challenges Past vs. Present for the Pitt African American Community” that will take place in the WPU Assembly Room and include some of the participants in the 1969 computer center takeover;

• A 3-4 p.m. Oct. 23 Tribute to Campus Civil Rights Pioneers in the WPU Assembly Room;

• A 4-5 p.m. Historical Exhibition of African American Progress at Pitt in the University’s Hillman Library;

• An Evening of Pitt African American Alumni in the Arts from 7 to 9 p.m. Oct. 23 in Pitt’s Bellefield Hall Auditorium;

• A Pitt Black Greek-lettered organizations show titled “Steppin’ Back in Time … Movin’ in the Future” at 10:30 p.m. Oct. 23 in the 7th-floor Auditorium of Pitt’s Alumni Hall; and

• The AAAC Fellowship Brunch and Special Black Greek and School Awards Presentation from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Oct. 25 in the Pittsburgh Hilton Hotel, Gateway Center, Downtown.

The most glittering event of the weekend, the AAAC’s Distinguished African American Alumni Awards Banquet Gala, will take place from 6 to 10 p.m.  Oct. 24 in Pitt’s Connolly Ballroom, Alumni Hall. This year, seven Pitt graduates will be honored as Distinguished African American Alumni of Pitt:

• Robert Agbede (ENGR ’79, ’81G), president of Chester Engineers, the largest Black-owned environmental engineering firm in America;

• Noma Bennett Anderson (SHRS ’79G), the first African American to serve as president of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association and professor and chair in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Florida International University;

• Nadine Frye (NURS ’47, ’51’G; EDUC ’87G), who, in 1943, was one of the first three Black women [with Rachel Poole, below, and Adena Johnson Davis (NURS ’47), who was honored by the AAAC in 2003] to be admitted into Pitt’s nursing program, which then became the first nursing program in Pittsburgh to accept Black students, thus breaking the color barrier for future generations of Pitt nurses; Frye went on to earn a PhD in education at Pitt and teach mental health nursing at her alma mater;

• Bernard Mack (A&S ’88), owner/agent of a State Farm Insurance franchise and a real estate entrepreneur in Pittsburgh;

• Rachel Poole (NURS ’47, ’52G; EDUC ’77), who in 1943, together with Nadine Frye and Adena Johnson Davis, was one of the first three Black women to be admitted into Pitt’s nursing program; Poole went on to earn a PhD in education at Pitt, win appointment as a nursing professor at her alma mater, and become the first Black director of nursing at the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic;

• Gregory Randall Spencer (CGS ’80), president and CEO of Randall Industries and founder of Bridging the Gap Development LLC, a business that acquires properties and businesses that will provide job opportunities for the less fortunate; and

• William E. Strickland Jr. (A&S ’70), president and CEO of Manchester Bidwell Corporation, the parent company of Bidwell Training Center and Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild; a Pitt trustee; a Grammy-award winner; and the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “genius” award.

Also at the Gala, the AAAC’s $3 million financial aid campaign will be publicly inaugurated. The AAAC campaign is part of Pitt’s

$2 billion Building Our Future Together capital campaign, the most successful fundraising campaign in the history of both the University and Southwestern Pennsylvania. To date, Pitt’s capital campaign has raised $1.38 billion. For more information about supporting the AAAC or to make a gift online, visit www.giveto.pitt.edu or call 1-800-817-8943.

The AAAC campaign is led by Wharton-Boyd and chaired by Douglas Browning (A&S ’72), who heads the AAAC’s campaign steering committee. Browning is a senior vice president at Sandler & Travis Trade Advisory Services Inc., where he helps governments and multinational businesses modernize their customs and security procedures. Named a Pitt Legacy Laureate in 2007, Browning also serves as a director at large for the Pitt Alumni Association.

The Sankofa Homecoming Weekend celebration’s cochairs are Pitt alumni Ludwick “Luddy” Hayden Jr. (A&S ’66, EDUC ’68G), a former AAAC honoree and president and founder of the consulting firm Luddy Hayden and Associates, which Hayden established after retiring from Chevron, where he had served as manager of international government affairs, representing the company’s African business interests; and Valerie Njie (A&S ’71), executive director and senior vice president at Bidwell Training Center.

For registration information and a detailed schedule of events for the AAAC Sankofa Homecoming Weekend, visit www.alumni.pitt.edu.