Syracuse University is the home of the largest reunion of minority alumni of all of the major universities in the country with over 300 attendees. Who knew? And why? Well, for starters, the university hosted its first reunion for African American and Latino alumni in 1983. The alumni group wanted an event that brought people back home to Syracuse to serve multiple purposes: rekindle relationships and develop new business and personal relationships. What makes Coming Back Together (CBT) so unique is that it is multi-generational. So, graduates of the ’90s get to mingle and do business with graduates of the ‘60s; thus, friendships and business relationships get developed and cultivated with people they would have never otherwise met. We also know that people do business with those they like and who they trust. How awesome is it to sit with another Syracuse alumnus you just met and witness him calling his fraternity brother on the phone to connect the two of you to do business together? This is just how it happens.
Initially, the group attempted to meet annually, but that was too frequent for most alumni who travel for work or have life events happening: weddings, child births, work and business commitments and family reunions. So, the reunion evolved to occur at the university every three years. There are also regional groups, including New York City; Philadelphia, PA; Washington, DC; Miami, FL; Atlanta, GA; and Los Angeles, CA, which host events locally. The entire group also meets abroad. The alumni group has travelled to Jamaica (Ocho Rios and Negril), Martha’s Vineyard and South Africa in the past years. These events are planned by the Program Development department under the leadership of Larry Martin, Associate Vice President. Another solid contribution is the university’s dynamic Chancellor and President, Nancy Cantor, who makes diversity a high priority. Today, the institution that used to have less than 1% of minority students currently boasts 32% of minority students. Thus, the African American and Latino alumni do not view their alma mater as a white institution, but an inclusive university that embraces their heritage and culture.
This year’s African American and Latino Alumni Reunion and Conference entitled the theme, “Coming Back Together X: Celebrating the Past, Shaping the Future”. The weekend-long event was held September 22-25, 2011 on the campus of Syracuse University. Honorary co-chairs were music industry executive and entrepreneur Shanti Das ’93 and distinguished broadcast journalist Marcus Solis ’91 of WABC-TV. Coming Back Together (CBT) was the first reunion of its kind in the nation. It brings African American and Latino alumni back to campus to celebrate their many accomplishments and to experience Syracuse University’s growth and change. The conference also exposes current students to these important role models. The conference incorporates many professional workshops and panel discussions with alumni as panelists and attendees; luncheons; receptions by schools, colleges, administrative offices, and student organizations; an alumni authors book signing; the Quad Freak (fraternities and sororities’ step show); Chancellor’s reception; professional networking sessions; entertainment and dancing; Golf Classic; an SU football game; an art exhibit; the Black Celestial Choral Ensemble (BCCE) Reunion Choir Rehearsal (former and current choir members); the banquet reception and dinner; the after parties; Sunday morning worship service and farewell brunch. There are also many SU couples, boyfriends and girlfriends turned husbands and wives who are still together and come up together to bond with former classmates. Attendees also find time to get away to go shopping for SU paraphernalia, for wings, to run to the mall for last minute items for the banquet, and to visit with their children as many alumni have children who are current students at the university. The event photographer documents the entire weekend with thousands of photos that alumni share with each other and family members.
The Gala Dinner is the most anticipated event of the weekend, which is held on Saturday night at the On Center in downtown Syracuse. All of the fraternities, sororities, professional associations and student organizations take group photos during the reception. Everyone is donned in their nicest semi-formal attire, a huge transformation from the Syracuse T-shirts and sweatshirts that were worn at the earlier football game. The ballroom is beautifully decorated. The large screens are flashing a slide show made from previous CBT reunions and alumni are all over the place taking pictures with their frat brothers and former roommates. The greatest challenge is getting everyone to take their seats to start the program, which consisted of the welcome address, remarks, invocation, dinner, scholarships and gifts, student response, Chancellor’s Citations, response and tribute to John Mackey. Angela Y. Robinson ’78, President and CEO, A. Robinson Communications, LLC, was the event’s lively mistress of ceremonies. Syracuse University’s Chancellor and President Nancy Cantor greeted the group with powerful and heartfelt remarks. The invocation was given by Pastor Tangela Smith, Associate Pastor, Abundant Life Christian Center.
Twenty-six undergraduates received scholarships from the Our Time Has Come Scholarship Fund, which was created and funded by African American and Latino alumni to benefit the African American and Latino students at the university. This fund was birthed a small seed with the goal to one day help many. Today, there are tens of thousands of dollars in this fund. Some prominent alumni such as Dave Bing and Angela Robinson have developed scholarship funds in their names. Further, the fraternities and sororities conduct scholarship drives to fund this initiative. This year, Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. donated and/or pledged $2,022; Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. donated and/or pledged $36,000 ($1,000 for each year the organization has been on the campus); and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. donated and/or pledged $41,000 toward the scholarship fund. This alumni group realizes its strength in numbers and its ability to build legacies. They wanted to provide a support system that they didn’t have as students; they want to ensure that minority students spend their college years studying, going to class, working, engaging in internships, community service, and student organizations and building lasting relationships without worrying about whether they can stay another semester because they don’t have the necessary financial resources. This alumni group is making a tremendous difference in the lives of the current students at Syracuse University, which is very rewarding.
Michelle Walker-Davis, 82′ G’85, Chairman and CEO, Imperial Management Group reflects on her participation in the reunion and conference. She says, “CBT was started in 1982, I was an Intern for Larry Martin back then, and 30 years later we are still Coming Back Together! The only difference now is that my children and other children of Alums are now SU students and alums themselves, so we have started a RICH LEGACY that speaks Volumes! This would not be possible without donors and organizations like my sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for Black and Latino Scholarships…which is unheard of at other mainstream Universities. Syracuse is the 1ST and shall remain at that status with the caliber of alums that continue to prosper in their careers and give back each and every reunion. We are truly blessed”!
At each CBT, alumni from all walks of life are honored for their professional accomplishments. This year, the honorees were Keith M. Brown ’82 for distinguished achievement in the media industry, Magdalena A. Garcia ’94 for distinguished achievement in arts administration, Audrey Jones ’83 for distinguished achievement in television production, and Ramon E. Rivera ’94 for distinguished achievement in the practice of law. Finally, the event culminated with a profound tribute to former football great John Mackey ’63, sports legend and founding head of the NFL Players Association on Saturday, September 24, 2011, which coincidentally would have been John’s 70thbirthday. Dave Bing presented Sylvia Mackey with an award and she graciously accepted on behalf of her husband, who passed away July 6, 2011 from front temporal dementia. The night continued with a reception that incorporated a live band duo who happened to be twins at just 20 years old and an assortment of teas, whipped cream and chocolate shavings. The after parties followed.
The Sunday morning worship experience was nothing less than extraordinary. BCCE is celebrating its 35thanniversary and possesses the excellence it had decades ago. The word of the hour was you can have what you say; you have the power of life or death in your tongue so watch what you say! Pastor Smith rendered an awesome message. The final activity was the farewell brunch, which is the alumni’s last opportunity to break bread together, exchange business cards, take pictures, make promises to stay in touch and share a hug before jumping into their cars or heading to the airport to their various destinations until 2014. Until then, many alumni will be making new history to be celebrated.
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