Pride for the University of Michigan and dedication to its students is bringing black alumni activists back to campus for “Taking Back the X, Bringing Back the Love.” The event, co-sponsored by the Alumni Association, will allow students to hear narratives from alumni who have experienced similar issues while they were on campus.
“When we asked our alumni to come back, every single one of them said yes without hesitation,” explained Elizabeth James, program manager for the Department of Afro-American and African Studies. “That’s why I feel like this is going to be a really special evening for the students.”
James, a three-time alumna, has a long Michigan history in her family. Her sister is a fellow graduate, and her mother graduated from U-M in 1956—in the midst of the civil rights movement. James explained: “It wasn’t easy for my mom here, but she knew that once she had her education, no one could ever take that from her.” That’s why James focuses on the positive. She thinks about the empowering moments that come from struggle. And that’s why the event is focused on bringing back the love.
“We’re looking at this as an evening of nourishment for the spirit, as well as a coming together of the generations … If we really want to be relevant for the next generation, we’re going to have to stay on top of the diversity issue.”
The alumni speakers come from a wide variety of circumstances. Melba Joyce Boyd, ’79, is a poet who has read all over the world and chairs Africana Studies at Wayne State. Gerloni Cotton, ’09, a law student at UCLA, has been a central activist amidst racial tensions there.
“They are all coming back from different spaces, but all are still proud of the foundation U-M has provided them.” James went on to explain that they embody one of the core philosophies of U-M: Unless you take classroom learnings into the real world, what good does it do society?
As the advisor for the Black Student Union, James is acutely aware of the headlines Michigan has made recently. The #BBUM movement caught the nation’s attention, and declining minority enrollment has been an issue U-M has dealt with since the passing the Proposal 2 in 2006. That’s why student voices have been included from the start.
“They want to be involved because they love this campus too,” James said.
Weekly videos from students have highlighted the importance of Black History Month. And a reception following Taking Back the X gives students the chance to speak with the prominent alumni coming back to campus.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR U-M
Taking Back the X supports a theme President Schlissel has emphasized since his inauguration. As a public institution, U-M should reflect the public it serves.
“With our state having a large constituency of people of color, it’s so important they realize that they are welcome here,” James said. “We, as alumni, want to embrace them through this journey.”
James believes love is the way to achieve this. She sees love as an action, as work to be done.
“The alumni are bringing back the love they have for the university, for these students, and for one another.”
Once we tap into that the possibilities are endless.