Villanova University is known for breaking records, but the milestone reached last evening is one of the most historic of them all.
The “Back & Black; Celebration of the African American Experience at Villavona” event sponsored by the university during homecoming weekend brought more black Villanova alumni on campus than at any time in the 170 year history of the university.
The highlight of the event was the unveiling of Black Villanova: An Oral History project focusing on the African American student experience at Villanova between 1950-1985.
I was honored to be one of the twelve individuals they selected to interview for the project and I’m in awe to be in the company of some of the most renowned black alumni of that period.
The significance of the evening is due to the fact that most blacks never return to the Villanova campus after graduation. Many of us had unpleasant experiences and bad reminders of our days on the Main Line and only connect to other alums on our own terms, if at all.
However, despite the historic disconnect between the current black students and their black alumni, a core of activity launched by some of the early pioneers has continued through the years, most notably, the Black Cultural Society.
During the banquet we were introduced to a 90 year old gentleman who graduated in the 40s. We met one of the first black women students after VU became co-ed in 1968. We met 4 of the 5 black players on the 1968 football team. And I was excited to meet the group from the early 70s who risked it all by protesting and taking over buildings fighting for what they felt was the right thing.
This was also the group that brought Parliament Funkadelic, Stevie Wonder, Dick Gregory, and Muhammed Ali to perform at the Field House.
The most touching moment for me was when President of the University, Father Peter Donohue, spoke on behalf of the university and apologized for mistakes they may have made over the year. Then, he announced that someone in the room had left something behind many years ago. He reached down and grabbed a framed Villanova diploma and called basketball star Johnny Jones to the front to accept his sheepskin.
Apparently, Jones was so bitter at the end of his Villanova days that he didn’t even attend graduation.
Four years ago, Michelle Obama was criticized for expressing: “For the First Time in My Adult LIfetime, I’m Really Proud of My Country”. You may criticize me for echoing her words when I say that for the first time ever, I was really proud to be a Villanova alumni at last night’s event.
It wouldn’t have happened if a white guy, Thomas Mogan, Director of Student Development, didn’t choose this oral history project to be his dissertation for his PhD.
We often say that if we don’t tell our own history, someone else will. In this case, Mr. Mogan gave us a platform to share our own history and the results are only starting to manifest itself.
Click HERE for 'Black Villanova: An Oral History' site and see what I had to say