Conception, Birth, Infancy:
Inman Page Black Alumni Council
by Russell Malbrough ’99
Conception: How far are we from the days of 1877 when George Washington Milford and Inman Edward Page were the first two known African Americans to graduate from Brown University? How removed are we from the days of 1905 when Ethel Robinson bore the trials of a pioneering Black woman at Pembroke College? Do their motivations for life-long learning, financial stability and dedicated service still ring in the hearts, minds and souls of current alumni? We think so…
The Inman Page Black Alumni Council was conceived as a proactive group of people that fosters education and development at Brown University through a partnership in a unified community. In addition, this group aims to elevate the lives of all individuals in the African Diaspora “through usefulness and reputation.”
Birth: In 1877 Inman E. Page graced the commencement audience with a senior oration that was captured by the Providence Journal as an act of “rare ability.” Undoubtedly this rare ability assisted the future university president and was a factor in awarding his honorary degree in 1918.
The year 1999 marked more senior orations, honorary degrees and the 25th Reunion of the class of 1974. At Brown, this class was significant for many reasons. Key among them was the dramatic 300% increase of Black graduates as a result of the 1968 walk-out. Having this group reunite on campus brought about conversations of camaraderie, networking, and concern.
A long-standing tradition for Onyx is to sponsor the Black Baccalaureate service at Manning Chapel. The 1999 keynote speech by Professor Elmo Terry-Morgan ’74 evoked the memory of ancestors, family and well-wishers that made the journey through Brown a success. His message seeped into the foundation of the structure and those sitting within. Professor Terry-Morgan’s speech was a charge. The class of 1999 was to go out become active alumni and create a Black Alumni group. The idea had been mentioned years before, in different settings, in different contexts. The chemistry was right, the charge was electric, the idea took root.
In the school year 1999 – 2000 an Independent Study Project by Artis Arnold ’99 and Russell Malbrough ’99.5 took shape in the Afro-American Studies Program. The seed planted months before was beginning to blossom. Guided by Professor Terry-Morgan, a comparative analysis of several Ivy League and Historically Black Colleges and Universities solidified the benefits of a Black Alumni council.
A central factor for successful models of Black Alumni groups was communication. The independently maintained electronic mail listserve for Black Brown Alumni was a major catalyst and for further organization. From 1997, Joelle Murchison ’95 has volunteered her time and energy to moderate a group of 188 people signed into firstname.lastname@example.org. This indicated an affinity to a Black Alumni organization.
When the impending graduates expressed a greater interest in alumni activities and supporting facts of “email@example.com” (an electronic mail listserve of Black Ivy-League alumni) and “The League” (a non-profit organization with the same membership base) support from Brown Alumni Relations office was established.
Melody Chartier, Assistant Director of Alumni Relations and Lisa Raiola ‘84, VP of Alumni Relations both extended themselves to the community of African descent. They served as key advocates of the Inman Page Alumni Council and helped to further define its mission by sponsoring an historic weekend conference. Participants included current students, administrators, staff, faculty, and alumni from different geographic locations and time periods. Spring weekend took on a new meaning for this group.
The conference was hosted in Newport, Rhode Island – famous for its colonial mansions, beautiful walkways and the annual Jazz festival. “Preserving the knowledge and understanding in a spirit of free inquiry,” this jewel of the Ocean State was once the largest point of departure for slave ships in the United States. According to The New York Public Library African American Desk Reference (p. 31), Newport was closely followed by Bristol and Providence.
After two days in Newport of reflection, presentation, and discussion, the labor was over. The cool damp New England weather gave way to a light drizzle by the end of the conference. Some traditions hold rain as a sign of relief from above. Born in 1853 a former-slave, one Black person went on to educate himself and “serve the community, the nation, and the world.” Born on April 15, 2000 the Inman Page Black Alumni Council adopted his name, scope and perseverance.
Infancy: After the joy of birth came the reality of parenting. Fortunately we remember the African proverb, “It takes an entire village to raise a child.” The ten-person Interim Executive Board is revising the final draft of the constitution.
First steps came one year after the charge, during commencement 2000. The eldest known living Black alumnae were honored during a ceremony in the Rites & Reason Theatre, Churchill House. The three Rhode Island natives, Beatrice Coleman ’25, Carolyn Minkins ’32 and Beatrice Minkins ‘’6 delighted a crowd with accounts of their days on College Hill. The event was co-sponsored by Alumni Relations Office / Multicultural Activities Committee of Brown Alumni Assoc.; Pembroke Center Associates; Rites & Reason Theatre / Afro-American Studies Program and the Third World Center with support from Onyx and the Brown chapter of the National Pan-Hellenic Council.
How do you celebrate the four-month birthday of an organization that took 123 years to build?
You assess the benefits of your education and try to improve upon aspects for future generations. You spread the word through every newsletter, magazine, telephone call, postal mail, electronic mail, and even the good old face to face conversation.
You convey the message from young to old:
“The mission of Brown University is to serve the community, the nation, and the world by discovering, communicating and preserving the knowledge and understanding in a spirit of free inquiry, and by educating and preparing students to discharge the offices of life with usefulness and reputation. We do this through a partnership of students and teachers in a unified community known as the university-college.” Brown University Charter
Special thanks to all those mentioned in the article, Javette Laremont ’84 President-Elect of the Brown Alumni Association and everyone that helped make this organization a reality. “Onward and upward”
The author Russell Malbrough is a graduate of Brown University with a dual concentration in Sociology & Afro-American Studies. He holds a Masters Degree at the Institute for Research in African American Studies, Columbia University.