DPUBLC hosts 20th annual graduation celebration for students of African descent

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DPUBLC hosts 20th annual graduation celebration for students of African descent

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The DePaul University Black Leadership Coalition (DPUBLC) will host its 20th annual Graduation Celebration for Students of African Descent May 19. The event, which will feature keynote speeches, music and dance as well as kente stoles for students, serves as a culmination of DPUBLC’s events over the course of the school year and a sendoff for students.

Since its start in 1997, the celebration has expanded from honoring a small group of students to a celebration at the McGrath-Phillips Arena that is expected to host around 400 students and their family members this year. The expansion means that more students can participate. The road to this year’s celebration was one that was dependent on learning new ways to offer support to faculty and staff of African descent.

“In the beginning, when it was just a few of us it was simple,” Ocelia “Faye” Harris, communications coordinator of DPUBLC, said. “We started out in the commons. We still called names and gave stoles, but we had cake and punch. We’ve come a long way from cake and punch. Over the years, as we get more contributions from the colleges and through dues and sponsorships and things of that nature, we got more funding (…) but the core of (the celebration) still remains the same — it’s about families and students.”

Though DPUBLC focuses mainly on supporting faculty and staff of African descent across academic disciplines, those on the planning committee for the celebration said they realize the success of the faculty and staff directly relates to the success of the students they teach daily and vice versa.

When the group first started there were not a lot of African American students or faculty at DePaul. Carol Goodman-Jackson, the budget coordinator, said  part of the reason why DPUBLC was started was professors would look out at their classes, and in the larger DePaul community and were unable to find people who looked like them.

“We said we need to come together — we talked to the administration and stayed on them to make sure that’s happening,” Goodman-Jackson said.

Since that initial conversation and the start of the group in 1995, the group has expanded from meeting a few times a year to celebrating and congratulating faculty, staff and students across DePaul’s colleges for their achievements. The celebration, after many years of growth, is still a moment where students, faculty and staff get to come together.

“DPUBLC was created to reach out to African American faculty and staff and support them, but it was evident early on that the success of black faculty and staff was tied to the black students who were here at DePaul,” Pastor Keith Baltimore, university minister for the Protestant Christian Ministry, said.

“Ultimately, you didn’t see a distinction. It’s kind of, in a way, the way the black community hopes to see themselves — for us all to come together. That’s why the African descent graduation celebration is so important. It’s a service we’re providing to the university, but we’re highlighting our students. It’s something black faculty and staff are offering to the students and we’re saying, ‘we see your success in ways perhaps other parts of the university can’t see because we understand the entirety of the struggle.’”

Acknowledging students of African descent face a different collegiate experience than other students at the university is also part of DPUBLC’s mission, and partly the reason why the celebration exists. The overarching goal of the group is to create and provide a nurturing environment for enhanced recruitment, retention and success not only for faculty and staff, but also for students.

The celebration will also feature awards for faculty and staff. The Sankofa Award — which translates to ‘go back and get it’ in the Twi language of Ghana — recognizes the contributions of individuals within DPUBLC who, through their work, service and legacy-building efforts, demonstrate excellence in enhancing the African American community at DePaul.

In years past, the celebration also included Kenyan students from Tangaza College, in Nairobi, Kenya, which is partnered with DePaul’s School for New Learning.

Going forward, DPUBLC hopes to continue to reach out to faculty and staff members, and to continue to support students of African descent, and organizations on campus.

“We cannot emphasize enough the importance of how the black graduation contributes to the identity of DePaul,” Baltimore said, mentioning student organizations like the Black Student Union, the Sankofa award and the Miss Black and Gold pageant as examples. “People ask me ‘where’s the black life at DePaul’ and it’s here. (…) In many ways this black graduation is for some the climax of all the events that take place throughout the whole year.”