A tight-knit group of Black alumni from the Class of 1973 have arrived on campus for Alumni Weekend and their 50th reunion. It’s not this group’s first class reunion; many alums have maintained relationships over the decades, as well as with Black graduates in classes a few years ahead and behind them. But this is their first reunion on campus.
There is a reason for that, according to Linda Keene (Questrom’73), who attended what was then the College of Business Administration. “We didn’t feel necessarily welcome to be part of things like student government, so we created our own,” says Keene, a retired corporate marketing executive now working as a fiber artist. “We had our own newspaper, our own student union, our own sororities and fraternities, our own choral groups. Our connections were to the people, not to the school.”
In early 2023, she found herself in a conversation about engagement opportunities for Golden Terriers (50-year alums) like herself with Liliana Mickle, BU’s associate director for generational and alumni engagement. The two had a long talk about how Keene and other Black alums in her class felt about their time at BU.
“There were two streams of conversation that occurred,” Mickle recalls. “One, that she and other Black alums went on to have very successful careers, and really credit that to being at BU. The other was that BU had not engaged these alumni, and they did not feel that they had a community outside of their group that supported them.”
The two agreed that they wanted to see these alums feel more welcome. Keene reached out to fellow alums to ask if any of them would be interested in coming back to BU for their Golden Terrier reunion during Alumni Weekend 2023, September 21 to 23.
“We spent a couple of hours [together] on a Saturday, and everybody got a chance to speak about the time that they were at BU,” Mickle says of the group’s first Zoom meeting.
They discovered that Keene’s fellow alums were enthusiastic about the idea of a BU reunion. Mickle also realized that Keene possesses a rare ability to unite people toward a common goal—and then light a fire under them.
“If I can find one Linda in each class, then every reunion will have a meaningful return to campus,” Mickle says. “I tell everybody, I’m working for Linda until Alumni Weekend. That’s my boss.”
“People said, ‘Thank you for volunteering [to organize the event],’” Keene says with a laugh. “That’s not exactly how it went, but I’m that kind of person. I said, ‘If we do something, it would be a lot of work and we’re already behind.’ And I certainly wouldn’t be willing to do it unless there was a substantial number of people who were willing to participate.”
By the end of March, 25 people had signed up to help plan the reunion. “So I said, ‘Well, I guess we’re doing this thing,’” she says.
The goal was to create a program of events, activities, and outreach opportunities for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Keene oversaw the creation of a steering committee of five alums, each overseeing a team of their own: outreach, documenting our history, legacy, yearbook, and program/activities.
The yearbook was especially important, as the University did not produce one in 1973.
“Most of us were first-generation and we wanted something to mark the fact that we had been to college—and our families wanted something,” Keene says. “So, we produced our own yearbook.” (Umoja, BU’s Black student union, compiled and distributed a yearbook for the Black student community.) “It was something that people have cherished over the years.”
In anticipation of this year’s reunion, the steering committee decided that after 50 years, the yearbook might be due for revision. Those attending the reunion can order an updated yearbook, complete with then-and-now photos and current profiles of participating alums.
Like the new yearbook, the weekend’s events are an amalgamation of the present and the past. Many of the scheduled events, such as tours of newer facilities and meet-and-greets with faculty and students of color, are meant to introduce alums to today’s BU. The committee also prepared a history presentation—which Keene hopes will “set the tone for the weekend.”
The slides are a slice of life, at BU and beyond, in the early 1970s. Among the events and achievements highlighted: Umoja’s successful 1968 negotiation with then-President Arland F. Christ-Janer, which increased financial aid, expanded recruitment of Black students, and established the Martin Luther King Center, a resource office for Black students; the Black Power movement; the Boston busing crisis; and some of the best fashion and music of the time.
“We had a lot of fun too,” Keene adds. “Whenever we would go to the football games, we had a Black cheering section. The sororities and fraternities all had great parties, and there were a lot of cultural activities. It wasn’t just about school.”
Looking back is vital, because some of the support structures Black students fought for in the 1970s no longer exist, Keene says, such as the King Center, which once stood at 178 Bay State Road.
“It was a place you could go for help if you needed it and it was very much a central location for us,” she says. “There were people there whose job it was to try to help us be successful and navigate Boston University. It was an information place, it was a gathering place, and it was a place where we could be ourselves.”
But in planning the Alumni Weekend events, the group is also looking ahead, in a way. “We are having a meeting with African American faculty and administrators, because we’re trying to understand what the University is doing today to attract and retain administrators and faculty of color, and how we as alums can hopefully engage with them on that front,” Keene says. “We’re also meeting with current students [of color] to try to understand what some of their challenges are and how we as a group might be able to help with that.”
The reunion has lots of room for celebration as well. The penultimate event is a farewell party at the Howard Thurman Center for Common Ground, featuring popular hits from the 1970s and lots of dancing. The next morning, alums are invited to a farewell worship service at St. Paul AME Church in Cambridge—“another touchstone in the community,” Keene says.
Mickle and Keene, who saw the program go from an idea to reality in a matter of months, credit the alums who volunteered their time and enthusiasm to make the reunion happen. Like the community the alums have nurtured for 54 years, this reunion is a labor of love.
“People have really gone the extra mile—particularly the members of the steering committee, who have worked overtime to provide the kind of leadership that was necessary to make this happen,” Keene says. “It helps a little bit that we’re retired, although we’re the busiest retired people I know.”
She believes the alums who come for the weekend will be excited. “I think they’re going to be really gratified to be there,” she says. “Given where we all are in our lives, this may be the last chance we have to be in that space with this group of people who were such an important part of our formative experience, and that’s very meaningful.”