The Charger Blog

University Celebrates 50th Anniversary of Founding of Black Student Union

The Sankofa Ball brought Chargers together for a fun and elegant evening to show their Charger Pride and to reflect on the important impact the Black Student Union has had on countless students. It was a highlight of the University's recent Black and Latino Alumni Weekend.

May 3, 2023

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Chargers at the Sankofa Ball.
Chargers were excited to attend the Sankofa Ball.

When Ariana Eastwood '23 first started her time as a Charger, she wanted to bring people together. She was amazed by the impact that unity and a sense of community can have on students, from their first experiences with their Orientation and Transition Leaders and continuing throughout their academic careers. She's been committed to promoting community and belonging during her own academic career – including during the University's recent Sankofa Ball.

President of the University's Black Student Union, Eastwood reflected on the important ways the University has celebrated diversity, unity, and belonging. She addressed her fellow Chargers at the ball, which was held as part of the University's Black and Latino Alumni Weekend, serving as a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Black Student Union.

Eastwood, who has helped organize a variety of important campus events, including the recent "Black Girls Rock" Luncheon and the University's inaugural Black Lives Matter flag raising, says these programs are important to helping cultivate a sense of community. She was excited to see so many members of the University community come together at the Sankofa Ball – an event that sold out.

"It's important for us to find our people on campus and to get involved," said Eastwood, a forensic science major and a first-generation student. "After COVID, we wanted to bring back in-person events and increase engagement, and we're grateful to have so many people here to take part in these events."

'I wanted to be a part of this'
Chargers at the Sankofa Ball
The Sankofa Ball brought together Chargers past and present.

Beginning in 2009, Black and Latino Alumni Weekend has brought alumni and current students together for a variety of events sponsored by various multicultural Recognized Student Organizations (RSOs). This year, as the Black Student Union celebrated its 50th anniversary, students, alumni, faculty, and staff gathered to celebrate at the Sankofa Ball.

The event brought Chargers such as Kenneth Onuh '24 MPH and Christian Shine '26 to the Beckerman Recreation Center for an elegant and fun evening of Charger spirit and community. They were excited to spend time with friends, and they were "blown away" by the caliber of the Sankofa Ball.

"It's very important to have multicultural events and to know the University has inclusion and diversity in mind," said Onuh. "It's great to see everyone come together, get dressed up, and interact with each other."

Added Shine, a business management major, "As an African American man, I wanted to be a part of this. I'm glad to see how many people showed up. This was very sophisticated and beautiful."

'Remembering the past shapes the future'
Allen Love '88, '90 MPA speaks
Allen Love '88, '90 MPA speaks to his fellow Chargers during the event.

Established in 1973, the Black Student Union was the first student organization on campus for students of color. It continues to have a meaningful impact on Chargers, helping students and alumni feel connected. For Ashley McDowell '14, '17 M.S., celebrating the BSU's legacy was an important reason to attend the ball.

"As an alum, I believe it's very important to be a part of this and to celebrate 50 years of the BSU here with faculty, staff, and students," said McDowell, who is now a success adviser in the University's Center for Student Success. "Fifty years is a testament to the University's values and diversity, and that it values Black and brown students – those who look like me."

The ball was a highlight of the weekend's events, which also included a Mx. PRIDE Drag & Cosplay Extravaganza and step show. It also brought Charger alumni – many of them wearing suits or ball gowns – together to reconnect and reminisce.

Allen Love '88, '90 MPA, the lead sponsor of the event and a member of the University's Board of Governors, shared his own experience at the University. Love, who was last year named one of the "most influential Black executives" in the country by Savoy Magazine, reflected on just how impactful the BSU was for him as a Charger.

"The BSU gave us a place where we could have community," said Love, executive vice president; BSA officer; chair of diversity leadership; and head of Fraud Risk Management and Global Security & Investigations at TD Bank. "Remembering the past shapes the future."

'This event was amazing'
Ariana Eastwood ’23 and Aaron Brooks ’24
Ariana Eastwood ’23, current BSU president, and Aaron Brooks ’24, vice president.

The ball brought together past and present members and leaders of the BSU, including Glenn Joseph '78. He first came to the University in 1975, and he wrote the first BSU constitution. Joseph, who served as BSU president in 1976, was excited to return to his alma mater to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the organization.

"Look how far we've come," he said. "There's enough room for everyone. We can't be lulled into complacency because we've accomplished what we have. Together, we can accomplish whatever needs to be done. I'm so proud to be here."

During the event, Chargers watched a video highlighting the achievements and importance of the BSU. Speakers discussed the history of the organization as well as the important impact it has had on the lives of countless students. The ball included several past presidents of the BSU, including Charnessey Brower '10, '13 MBA.

"I'm extremely proud to see so many students of color and supportive faculty and staff here," said Brower, who served for two terms as BSU president. "This event was amazing. I commend everyone for being part of this. It's so important to have this for people of color."

The Sankofa Ball.
The University’s Sankofa Ball was held in the Beckerman Recreation Center.
'A leader and a role model'

Several Chargers were also recognized as part of the event. Alandre Alexis, assistant director of RSOs and operations, earned the Horatio Strother Award, which recognizes a Charger who is a role model and who demonstrates leadership and service to the University community. Maudjeani Pelissier '26, an international student from Haiti and a music and sound recording major, received the Sankofa Scholarship.

The event also recognized the leadership of dedicated members of the University community, including BSU executive board members. Aaron Brooks '24, vice president, was named executive member of the year, while Ron Pierce '16 earned the alum of the year award. During the ceremony, Eastwood passed the torch to Brooks, who will take over as BSU president after Eastwood graduates.

"If you told me that my senior year I'd become president, I wouldn't have believed it," said Brooks. "The BSU has taught me how to be a leader and a role model."