2023 Black Alumni Reunion: Reimagining the future of Brown’s Black community

A record-breaking 716 alumni, 260 students, and 187 guests came together from across generations to celebrate the evolution of the Black experience at Brown while cultivating a greater sense of belonging.

Joy, connection, belonging


The weekend was a joyful celebration, as well as an opportunity to reconnect with the community and rekindle a sense of belonging at Brown.

For the alumni who returned to College Hill for the fifth Black Alumni Reunion on October 27-29, the weekend-long event was more than just an opportunity to explore their old stomping grounds, reconnect with former classmates, and learn about new developments on campus. Nearly 1,200 attendees, including over 700 alumni, united across Brunonia for a shared mission: to collectively envision the future of the Black community at Brown.

This year's Reunion was centered around Afrofuturism themes of (re)claiming, (re)connecting, and (re)imagining. Through programming that drew on community and institutional knowledge, intergenerational connections, and experiences that spark “radical joy,” alumni were inspired to think about how to actively engage in the critical work that lies ahead.

“Now that we’re out [of Brown] and we’re all successful, we need to figure out how to parlay that success as a collective into something that makes more of a difference than what we do as individuals,” said Cedric Bright, M.D. ’85, after checking in at Maddock Alumni Center during the picture-perfect fall weekend. 

A packed program featuring dozens of lectures, receptions, and social gatherings aimed to do just that, but the Reunion also fostered a greater sense of belonging within the community, says Eldridge Gilbert III ’05, alumni trustee and 2023 Black Alumni Reunion co-chair. 

“We very purposefully created opportunities for alumni and current students to come together and build intergenerational relationships during the weekend,” he explained. “I think those intentional efforts really made all of the guests feel that they belonged at Brown and felt welcome to be back on College Hill.”

Building connections 

One such opportunity was a homecoming-style community luncheon on Pembroke Field, which brought alumni and students together around their affiliations with various varsity sports, student activities, and other affinity groups. “This allowed people to sit with folks who they shared a common experience or passion with—even if they didn't know each other,” said Gilbert, who is also the former president of the Inman Page Black Alumni Council (IPC).  

Later that afternoon, more than 250 alumni and students gathered in Sayles Hall for “Moving from Social Capital to Community Capital.” The interactive event focused on building relationships while speakers discussed the value of community networks for advancing professional development and navigating career journeys.

Fostering community connection between alumni and students has been a central focus of the IPC. During a celebratory dinner on Saturday, Judy Sanford-Harris, Ph.D. ’74, P’14 received the IPC Black Legacy Award for her tireless efforts to diversify Brown’s student body through the IPC matriculation campaign.

“Judy’s service in re-imagining a world in which greater numbers of Black students enroll at Brown has impacted the lives of generations of Black alumni, and changed the course of history at Brown,” said Bernicestine McLeod Bailey ’68 LHD'23 hon., P'99, P'03, who praised Sanford-Harris for her years of leadership and service as an “intergenerational community connector.”

“Reconnecting with a myriad of brilliant Black and (shades of) brown alumni, friends, and faculty at Brown University’s Black Alumni Reunion was replenishing beyond my expectations.”

-Daphnée Saget Woodley ’00, via Instagram

Strengthening community through the arts 

From film screenings centering the Black experience to conversations with leading voices in hip-hop, education, film, and theater, attendees, speakers, and panelists explored the arts as a vital tool for amplifying Black narratives.

Visitors from a wide range of class years filled the Salomon Center for the Art Salon Experience, which included spoken word, comedy, and engaging musical acts like Becky Bass ’13, Katani A. Eaton Sumner ’85, and Oludolapo I. Akinkugbe ’16.

“Without a doubt, the Art Salon Experience fostered a deeper connection and appreciation among our community,” said Candace Berry-Vaughn ’84, P’20, who served on the Reunion’s planning committee. “It was a night of amazing talent that allowed everyone to experience different ways of seeing and thinking about life, their classmates, friends, and peers.” 

For another event, Alumnae Hall and the Brown Center for Students of Color were transformed into intimate lounges, where alums caught up with each other while listening to jazz, soul, and R&B music. The following night, everyone put their best foot forward at the popular Brown tradition of Funk Nite as Garfield Davidson ’00 (a.k.a. DJ GARF DIGGA) spun popular music from the ’70s through today.

Embracing discourse, transformation

Over the course of the weekend, attendees chose from various panel discussions that were focused on important topics affecting the community, including diversity in STEM fields and Black entrepreneurship. Among the events was a discussion on the power of the Black vote featuring elected officials Tiara Mack ’16, John Goncalves ’13 MAT’15, and Tahesha L. Way ’93. Meanwhile, panel discussions at the Brown Center for Students of Color provided insights into the evolution of the Third World Transition Program, Black Greek life, and activism at Brown.

One of the most-anticipated discussions on the agenda was a plenary session exploring the impact of the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on the consideration of race in admission. In her remarks about the landmark decision, President Christina H. Paxson reaffirmed the University’s commitment to sustain the diversity central to its mission while ensuring compliance with the law.

“Brown’s deep commitment to lawfully build a community with the diversity of experience and background and thought needed for academic excellence—that commitment is strong, has been strong, and will continue to be strong,” she said, adding that the University’s values won’t be “abandoned in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision.”

“We engaged in critical discussions, and paid respect to our roots.”

– Reggie Williams ’02, via Instagram

During a dedication ceremony on the first day of the Reunion, the newly renovated Churchill House—a rich site for scholarship, artistic production, and community-building at Brown since 1971—officially opened its doors with a lively procession led by djembé master Sidy Maïga.

Though all who toured the space marveled at its state-of-the-art features, many alumni were drawn to the memorabilia, paintings, and artifacts that reminded them of their time at Brown.

“The renovation has provided us with the opportunity to embrace our past in ways that help us fully see our present and plan for our future,” said Noliwe Rooks, chair of Africana studies, during the dedication.

Paying it forward

For many, the weekend wasn’t just about looking back: it was also about paying it forward. With their philanthropy, more than 403 Black Alumni Reunion attendees demonstrated their support of the University’s efforts to cultivate a more diverse and inclusive Brown. 

Attendees helped propel the Black alumni community toward its goal of raising $1 million this fiscal year for the Inman Page Black Alumni Council (IPC) Brown Annual Fund (BAF) Scholarship. The scholarship, which was created at the 2018 Black Alumni Reunion, provides financial aid, with a preference for exceptional African American or Black students, and has already helped bring 39 students to Brown.

With contributions from Black Alumni Reunion attendees, they’ve already raised more than $407,000. Along with their support of the IPC BAF Scholarship, attendees also contributed to initiatives like the Brown-Tougaloo Partnership and the Pathways to Diversity and Inclusion Fund, which enhances the student experience through creative programming and opportunities as outlined in Brown’s diversity and inclusion action plan.

“My academic journey at Brown University owes its existence to the invaluable support of the IPC BAF Scholarship.”

– Alexa Guarente ’25, via LinkedIn 

Lessons from the past 

As with past Reunions, some events were focused on preserving, honoring, and reclaiming history. The opening celebration for “Building a Bridge Back to Brown,” an oral history project established by the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity in collaboration with the John Hay Library, highlighted stories and ephemera from Brown’s early Black alumni, as well as Brunonians who helped to advance a culture of diversity and inclusion after the 1968 Black Student Walkout.  

“Capturing the stories of African Americans who have traversed these grounds here at this University is an important part of the work that we do,” said Sylvia Carey-Butler, vice president for institutional equity and diversity. “So, it’s no surprise that we are in a library because this is about academic excellence.”

“It is rare for a centuries-old institution like an Ivy League university to not only have the capacity and courage to examine its own complicated history, but also the temerity and intentionality to chart a more inclusive future for itself.”

– Andrea M. O'Neal ’03,
via LinkedIn

On Friday, members of Brown’s medical community came together at the First Unitarian Church to honor the legacy of Vice President Emeritus Levi C. Adams ADE’75 hon., who is credited with garnering early support for The Warren Alpert Medical School and establishing its Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs. 

At other events throughout the weekend, Brunonians gathered to pay tribute to retired professors, including Elmo Terry-Morgan ’74, who served as the artistic director of the historic Rites and Reason Theatre and as a professor of Africana studies and theatre arts and performance studies for more than 30 years before retiring this year.

“ When it comes to the Black students and alumni of Brown, nothing is ambiguous or abstract about our sense of community. It is a pulsating, thriving manifestation of our belief in and reliance on one another, completely and unapologetically as people of African descent. ”

Mark Winston Griffith ’85

The weekend culminated with Gospelfest, a joyous celebration commemorating the 50-year history of Black choirs at Brown. Under the direction of Loni Berry ’76 AM’89, alumni of combined Black choirs from that history delivered uplifting performances of African American spirituals like “Oh Happy Day” and “Early in the Morning.”

“When it comes to the Black students and alumni of Brown, nothing is ambiguous or abstract about our sense of community,” says Mark Winston Griffith ’85, a featured speaker at Sunday’s event. “It is a pulsating, thriving manifestation of our belief in and reliance on one another, completely and unapologetically as people of African descent.”

There are many ways that you can continue to celebrate and support the Black community at Brown—today: