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From Sitting-In to Reaching Out

NUBAA revives the spirit of '68 at its annual Hall of Fame event.

Although it's difficult to say when exactly a relatively new event becomes a tradition, the Northwestern University Black Alumni Association's annual Hall of Fame induction ceremony seems to be getting there after only two years.

Held the first weekend of May, the gathering not only honors the lives of outstanding African American alumni, but it is also timed to commemorate the 1968 takeover of the Bursar's Office by student activists in protest of a social and academic environment at Northwestern that was inhospitable to students of color.

"One of the things that 1968 taught us is that people who care, engage and use their imagination and creativity can enter into the historical process and make a change," said sociology professor Aldon Morris, who spoke at the event, held at JPMorgan Chase Tower in Chicago.

It is precisely this sort of change that NUBAA president Ce Cole Dillon (SESP78) sought to inspire when she took on her current role with the club two years ago.

"When I became president of NUBAA, I hadn't participated in anything at Northwestern in 28 years," she says. "Coming back is healing, building NUBAA is healing. The only way to prevent scars from being perpetuated is involvement."

The idea for the event came out of a simple dinner between longtime friends: Thayer James Herte (SESP78), a managing director at JPMorgan Chase, and Dillon attended Northwestern together in the 1970s and have been friends for 30 years. Concerned by low enrollment of African American undergraduates at Northwestern, they saw the event as an opportunity to draw on the resources and history of black alumni to help bolster the sense of on-campus community. This way, says Dillon, current students "realize when they graduate that they are going to join a community of greatness."

In fact, forging connections between alumni and students is, for Dillon, one of the main values of the event — so much so that the NUBAA board chartered a bus from Evanston to ensure that students could attend. "Every time we do one of these events, we feed our interconnectivity," she says. "It's always amazing and surprising how alumni and students build relationships across the generations."

This year's honorees are Johnnetta Betsch Cole (GSESP59, 67, H92), former president of Bennett College for Women and Spelman College and chair of the Johnnetta B. Cole Global Diversity and Inclusion Institute (see "All the Presidents — Men and Women," fall 2007); Irv Cross (SESP61), former NFL player and CBS Sports commentator; Evanston Mayor Lorraine Morton (GSESP42, H08); Eva Jefferson Paterson (WCAS71), a civil rights attorney (see "Leading the Charge for Change," summer 2000); and Fred "The Hammer" Williamson (WCAS60), a football star and actor. The club also posthumously honored Hope Bartlett (J97, GJ97), a Jacksonville, Fla., television reporter who died on assignment in 1998; Milton Gardner (J70), an attorney and namesake of the club's Gardner/Exum Scholarship; Percy Holden (J84), a former Wildcat football player and assistant elementary school principal; R. Eugene Pincham (L50), a retired judge and civil rights leader (see "In Memoriam,"); Emma Reynolds (FSM1895), who helped spark the creation of Chicago's Provident Hospital and Training School in the late 1800s and went on to practice medicine for 20 years after earning her degree from Northwestern's Woman's Hospital Medical College of Chicago; and Rashidi Wheeler (WCAS02), a former Wildcat football player who died in 2001.

During the Hall of Fame weekend the club also held its annual 5K run and walk to raise money for scholarships for African American students.

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chat trio
From left, Gwen Gilbert Cohen (KSM82), an unidentified guest and Eve Lewis chat at the NUBAA Hall of Fame ceremony in May.Photo by Eun Lee (Mu09)
laugh trio
From left, Ava Harth Youngblood (McC79), Thayer James Herte and Patricia Jones Blessman (SESP78) share a laugh at the ceremony.Photo by Eun Lee (Mu09)
Chase Tower
From left, Rae Smith, Alvin Ponder (WCAS75) and Sharon Strickland Williams (L77) enjoy the festivities at the JPMorgan Chase Tower.Photo by Eun Lee (Mu09)