The spirit of revival and rebirth was evoked at last Saturday’s Renaissance Gala, a fundraiser benefiting the Department of African American Studies and scholarships for African American students at UC Berkeley.< p>The second annual dinner and awards program drew close to 240 members of the department’s extended community – all there at Memorial Stadium’s Field Club to “make sure that generation after generation, African American students can thrive on this campus,” said emcee Micia Mosely, a Graduate School of Education lecturer and alumna.
With African American students making up 2.9 percent of the student body, said department chair Na’ilah Suad Nasir, “It’s hard to be black at Berkeley” and essential to
support recruitment and retention.
The evening’s special honorees, cited as models of excellence and activism, were food-justice advocate Bryant Terry, Bay Area journalist Belva Davis and national talk-show host and journalist Tavis Smiley.
“It means something for an African American to be accepted” at Berkeley, said Smiley, who met with a group of black students for several hours on campus a day earlier. But it’s “troubling,” he added, if those accepted can’t afford to attend.
Keynote speaker Tricia Rose, a professor of Africana Studies at Brown University, gave a direct, “sugar-free” talk about the persistence of what she termed “intergenerational structural racism” and why African American studies remains essential in a supposedly “post-racial” era.
Three members of the campus community were honored. Nzingha Dugas, director of African American Student Development, was cited for student mentoring; Associate Professor Leigh Raiford for faculty service; and doctoral candidate Ianna Owens for student excellence.
The department also paid tribute to the late Ted Agu, a public health major and Cal football player who excelled both academically and as an athlete. “He loved to laugh,” Nasir added. “This event is in his spirit.”