Growing up in the San Francisco private school system, diversity meant having a few Asian, Latino, and African-American kids in my class, respectively.
But at UC Irvine, comparing the 10,190 students enrolled in winter quarter 2005 who are encompassed by the umbrella term ‘Asian’ to the 487 ‘Black/African-American’ students gives new meaning to the term minority.
But for being such a small community on campus, the African-American student body has its share of organizations from the Afrikan Student Union to the National Society of Black Engineers.
In 2000, Fred Lipscomb, now Interim Executive Director of Undergraduate Housing, decided to create the Black Leadership Advancement Coalition of UC Irvine, an organization whose goals would be to ‘support academic achievement and promote cultural awareness’ in an attempt to coordinate the efforts of the various African-American groups on the UCI campus.
‘Assisting financially is vital,’ Lipscomb said in support of academic achievement, insisting that financial difficulty is too often an obstacle.
He also feels that, being so small, the African-American community must \”feel continuity and share what’s going on in different groups.\” To do this, BLAC brings together representatives from each of the African-American organizations on campus on a weekly basis to discuss issues pertaining to the community as a whole.
This year, BLAC celebrated the African-American community of UCI in its fourth annual ‘Night of the Stars,’ a gala held on May 12. The purpose of the banquet, Lipscomb explains, is to ‘invite the campus community to see the accomplishments of the organization’ and to celebrate ‘individuals on campus contributing to the success of African-Americans’ at UCI.
This year’s banquet featured guest speakers Deputy City Attorney Sharee Sanders, who received her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from UCI, and Juanita L. Watts, M.D., who completed both her undergraduate and medical degrees at UCI. Drama M.F.A. Angel Moore also sang James Weldon Johnson’s ‘Black National Anthem’ and there were performances by the LuHamerSon Trio and the A-Crew dancers.
It is important to recognize that BLAC is not an organization that recognizes only African-Americans on campus. The ‘Night of Stars’ is an occasion to distribute scholarships that recognize those who work to promote the success of African-Americans on campus, no matter their own race or ethnicity.
According to third-year psychology and social behavior major and BLAC member Monisola Harrison, anyone is qualified for the scholarships offered by BLAC. Only one of the six scholarships is need-based, and the others range in criteria from community service to graduating seniors.
Though similar in criteria, faculty awards are available by nomination only. From the pool of student applicants and nominated faculty, all scholarship recipients are selected by an external committee and awarded at the gala. Fourth-year information and computer sciences major Ogechi Amadi explained that one of the ways in which BLAC has evolved has been an increase in the number of scholarships it awards. Scholarship money is raised both by fundraisers and alumni, corporate and church donors.
But the BLAC gala is more than just an occasion to announce and recognize the scholarship recipients: This year’s gala theme was ‘A Dynasty in the Making,’ which Harrison said ‘really summed up what the program is about.’
Lipscomb explained that the community is ‘still establishing a sense of permanency on campus’ and events such as the BLAC gala serve to bring the community together in celebration. This year’s gala drew an attendance of approximately 200, including returning alumni. Advertised on Ring Road and in each of the respective African-American organizations that contribute to BLAC, Liza Nyantekyi, BLAC member and fifth-year biology major, emphasized that attendance at its gala is ‘open to everyone,’ as UCI’s African-American community works continually as a small but active minority to build a legacy on campus and beyond. As James Weldon Johnson’s ‘Black National Anthem’ declares, ‘Let us march on ’til victory is won.’