Swarthmore Kicks Off Black Excellence Celebration

Last week, the college kicked off its year-long Black Excellence celebration with a luncheon and series of events — both celebrating the Black community at Swarthmore while also recognizing its complex and difficult history and the current issues that affect Black students on campus. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Black Cultural Center and the Black Studies department, as well as the 25th anniversary of the Chester Children’s Chorus. 

On Friday, September 27th, President Valerie Smith officially kicked off the celebration with a catered lunch outside on Trotter Lawn. In her opening remarks, President Smith stressed the importance of recognizing the various forms in which Black Excellence manifests. 

“Celebrating Black Excellence at Swarthmore was conceived as a way of acknowledging the versatility, power, and contributions of Black faculty, staff, students, and alumni at Swarthmore,” said Smith. “It’s about celebrating the diversity of Black lives and experiences, and understanding that excellence can reveal itself in various and unpredictable ways.”

Anthony Foy, the program coordinator of the Black Studies department, spoke at the event, inviting the Swarthmore community to look both back and forward.

“We take this moment—a long year—to mark fifty years of Black Studies at Swarthmore and to celebrate Black Excellence here and elsewhere. I invite all of you, then, to join us in this year of celebration, reflection, and imagination: celebrating all that our Black Studies students, faculty, staff, and other allies have achieved; reflecting yet on our own difficult histories while reflecting, too, on the larger tumultuous history within which we now stand; imagining what our own Black Studies program should be fifty years from now while imagining, too, what peace, justice, and equality will mean for us in the future to come,” Foy said.

The event highlighted several speakers in addition to administrators and faculty members, including students and EVS staff. 

Members of the Swarthmore African American Society (SASS) began to push for a Black Studies major in 1968. Soon after, a committee of faculty and students was formed to build a Black Studies curriculum as well as to determine who would be teaching courses. 

There have been several Black Excellence events already on campus. One of those events was the BCC Open House, hosted on September 12th, which gave an opportunity for returning students, faculty, and staff to come together and welcome new members to the Swarthmore community. McCabe library is also currently displaying a special exhibit titled Looking Back to Move Forward, cataloging the history of the BCC and the Black community at Swarthmore. The display, consisting of pictures and clippings of newspaper articles and brochures, is open to the public until October 11th. There is one case with documents from the 1960s detailing protests led by Black students who called on the college to hire more Black faculty and admit more Black students. There are also pictures and documents about the history of the BCC over the 50 years that it has been open. On October 7th, Nikki Giovanni, a renowned Black poet who has three New York Times bestsellers and a Grammy nomination under her belt, will be returning to Swarthmore. Giovanni is known for her poetry collections Black Feelings, Black Talk, Love Poems, and My House. Her early poetry was inspired by the Black Power movement and her current work continues to explore personal and historical themes. Her last visit to Swarthmore took place during the celebration for the 10th anniversary of the BCC, in 1979. As a celebration of their 25th anniversary, Chester Children’s Chorus will host a concert on October 12th. All events celebrating Black Excellence are and will be posted on the campus calendar, on the Swarthmore website, and on flyers across campus. This is a year-long celebration: further coverage is to follow.

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