Alumni Weekend Honors Black Community
A century of support: MLK one of many
When he graduated from BU more than a century ago, John Wesley Edward Bowen was among the first African Americans to earn a PhD in the United States. The son of slaves, Bowen (STH 1885, 1887) was a Methodist clergyman, serving as pastor at churches in Boston, Newark, Baltimore, and Washington, as well as a scholar, an orator, a writer, and a lecturer who went on to become the president of Gammon Theological Seminary.
“He was a significant figure in history,” says Ted Karpf (STH’74), director of development and alumni relations at the School of Theology.
Bowen was also a significant, but little-known figure in BU’s history, paving the way for future black leaders, including Solomon Carter Fuller (MED 1897), the first black psychiatrist in the United States; the late Barbara Jordan (LAW’59, Hon.’69), a civil rights leader, the first Southern black woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom; the civil rights leader Reverend James Morris Lawson (STH’60); Andrea Taylor (COM’68), director of North America community affairs for Microsoft Corporation, a former United Nations delegate, and a BU trustee; and, of course, Martin Luther King, Jr. (GRS’55, Hon.’59).
“King was late, frankly,” says Karpf. “There had been 100 years of experience before King got here, and that 100 years brought forth leadership in fields and professions all over the world. So naturally, when you put it that way, of course King would come if he was going to be a national leader. Those leaders had already been here. It was almost like a stamp of approval.”
The University will recognize the accomplishments of its entire black alumni community October 27 to 30, during Alumni Weekend, which marks 60 years since King arrived on campus as a student. The Celebration of Black Alumni is open to all and will begin tomorrow, October 27, when Walter Fluker (GRS’88), the Martin Luther King, Jr., Professor of Ethical Leadership at STH, speaks about King’s role in the civil rights movement. His talk will take place at the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, where the University’s extensive King collection will be on display.
Karpf says he heard Fluker speak eloquently about King earlier this year, energizing the students and faculty who attended the presentation. “Walter does this magic thing,” Karpf says, “making it as if King had just stepped out of the room. It was incredibly vivid. I asked the kids, ‘Why did you come to this?’ And they said, ‘Because it’s a story, and now it’s alive.’”
“We can recite the King history and you can look at the signs on the campus and you can see the pictures, but it’s not alive,” says Karpf. “What we’re trying to do is bring that story into the present, which is a curiously theological thing to do anyway. Making stories come alive is what our business is.”
Later in the evening, Lawson will deliver the 2011 Lowell Lecture, titled The Living Legacy. He will talk about the struggles and unrecognized complexities of the civil rights movement, including his own imprisonment for refusing to report for the draft.
Other highlights of the Celebration of Black Alumni include the Howard Zinn Memorial Lecture, with this year’s speaker, former New York Times journalist Bob Herbert; an African cooking demonstration; a class featuring Dan Charnas (CAS’89), the author of The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop; and a jazz brunch. At a barbecue dinner on Saturday, October 29, Pulitzer Prize winner Isabel Wilkerson, a College of Communication professor of journalism, will discuss her book The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration.
Those events are among the nearly 100 social, educational, athletic, and networking activities on tap for Alumni Weekend, October 28 to 30.
The weekend includes the President’s Panel, hosted by President Robert A. Brown, titled The Many Faces of Entrepreneurship & Innovation: A Perspective from Boston University, and the presentation of the Distinguished Alumni Awards, the University’s highest honor. This year’s recipients are Elizabeth Cohen (SPH’92), senior medical correspondent at CNN; Gerard Cohen (LAW’62), founder and owner of Western Carriers, which provides transportation, warehousing, and other services to the wine and spirits industry; Meera Gandhi (GSM’89), a humanitarian and philanthropist, and Travis Roy (COM’00), a motivational speaker and activist who established the Travis Roy Foundation after suffering a paralyzing injury playing in his first hockey game as a BU freshman. Roy will receive the Young Alumni Award.
Elizabeth Cohen covers breaking medical news and consumer health issues for CNN and cnn.com. She developed the cnn.com column “Empowered Patient” and in 2010 published the book Empowered Patient: How to Get the Right Diagnosis, Buy the Cheapest Drugs, Beat Your Insurance Company, and Get the Best Medical Care Every Time. In 2008 she received a Distinguished Alumni Award from the School of Public Health.
Gerard Cohen has been active in the BU Alumni Council and the School of Law Alumni Association’s executive committee. In 1994, he and his family established the Gerard H. Cohen Award, given to a member of the LAW administrative staff who has shown unselfish and distinguished service to the school. He is a recipient of the LAW Silver Shingle Award for Distinguished Service to the School.
Meera Gandhi created the Giving Back Foundation, aimed at alleviating poverty, illness, and suffering and at helping to educate women and children. She recently produced, directed, and hosted the documentary Giving Back, which explores the ways that individuals from around the world give back to humanity. The film will be screened on Saturday, October 29, at 2:30 p.m. in the GSU conference auditorium.
Travis Roy, a freshman hockey player in 1995, was 11 seconds into his first college game when he crashed into the boards, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. His foundation is dedicated to improving the lives of individuals with spinal cord injuries and their families. The nonprofit provides equipment and funds research into cures.
The awards will be presented on Saturday, October 29, at noon, in the George Sherman Union’s Metcalf Hall.
More than 4,500 alumni, families, and friends are expected at Alumni Weekend. “There are many ways for alumni to become reconnected to the Boston University community during the weekend,” says Meg Umlas (MET’03), executive director of alumni relations. “There is something for everyone, of any age.”
The full schedule of Alumni Weekend activities can be found here.
Amy Laskowski contributed to this story.4 Comments