Black Student Coalition Celebrates 50th Anniversary on Campus

panel of people on stage with a sign in foreground that says "BSC Celebrating 50+ Years"

During the BSC 50th Anniversary Celebration, voices past and present came together for a panel on the history of the BSC. Moderated by Dara Ferguson '17, the panel featured David Dennis '08, Caro Djakuduel 鈥23, Sterling Freeman '92, Aaron Goodson '11, Dana Lemon '86, Wyndell Patterson '76 and Janet Stovall '85. 

Alums converged on campus Feb. 10-12, 2023, to celebrate the anniversary of the founding of the Black Student Coalition.

For more than 50 years, the student-led organization has enriched campus life at 桃瘾社区, creating avenues for Black students to build community and share culture.

men and women gathered around a phone smiling and talking
two men and a woman smiling as someone in foreground takes their picture
Woman holding a phone and taking a selfie with a man
black students and alumni on stage speaking as part of a panel
Black woman smiling in front of "BSC Through the Decades" exhibit
Two Black men smiling and talking to each other

The BSC is the reason that a lot of Black students actually stayed at 桃瘾社区. It was the place that we could be unapologetically ourselves. From my first week on campus when I took over the music and played Pastor Troy to let them know the 鈥04 boys were here to deciding to bring a Black fraternity to campus to having water gun fights and a joint party with KA ... The BSC simply was HOME.

Mbye Njie '04
Black Student Coalition (BSC) 50th Reunion
Black Student Coalition (BSC) 50th Reunion

BSC Campus Celebration

This story was published in 2021 in honor of the 50th anniversary, but the on-campus celebration was postponed because of the pandemic. Enthusiasm remained high for the in-person gathering, which included a panel on the history of the BSC, art and sporting events, opportunities for current students to connect with alums, and an evening dinner celebration and after party.

J. Machelle Sweeting finished college a semester ahead of schedule and considered not returning for her spring Commencement. Friends from the college鈥檚 Black Student Coalition (BSC) were among the many urging her to attend.

They reminded her that her degree was as important to her as it was to those watching her cross the stage. The milestone would inspire the sea of fellow students, community members and relatives watching, especially those who did not have an opportunity to attend 桃瘾社区, to earn a degree or to pursue an education.

Their opinion held sway. A commencement photo of Sweeting 鈥93 smiling with her proud father (who passed away a few years ago) sits on the desk in her chambers. The New York State Supreme Court Justice cherishes her college memories and her involvement with the BSC.

The BSC, founded by Black students to push for campus equity and inclusion, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. For many like Sweeting, the BSC offers a safe space and introduction to life-long friends.

鈥溙荫缜 was a diamond-cutting experience for me,鈥 Sweeting said. 鈥淲hen I visited campus, it was an instant love affair鈥攖he trees, the academic standards, the culture. I still have my acceptance letter with my financial aid package. But it was a challenge. There was one beauty salon in town, and it didn鈥檛 carry products for African American hair, for example. I became the courier of culture, in a way, bringing things back to campus from Harlem, where I grew up.鈥

Sweeting became the BSC president her junior year. She appreciated how the organization, like the scales of justice, worked toward balance鈥攁 balance of academic excellence and activism.

鈥淵our ability to engage, persuade and articulate鈥攖hat鈥檚 your greatest weapon,鈥 she said. 鈥淭his heightened awareness among Black students resulted in amazing programming through the BSC. We brought [singing group] Sweet Honey in the Rock and [poet] Nikki Giovanni to campus. It was great to be a part of something bigger than myself.鈥

Strong '72, left, with members of the college's physical plant staff ('72 yearbook)

Strong '72, left, with members of the college's physical plant staff ('72 yearbook)

Starting Small

The BSC had grown by the time Sweeting and her classmates became Wildcats. When Lester Strong 鈥72 arrived on campus as a top student and heavily recruited Division I basketball player, he was one of four students of color. With the support of campus leaders like Dean of Students Will Terry and Head Men鈥檚 Basketball Coach Terry Holland, he led College Union student programming (today鈥檚 Union Board) and helped found the BSC.

鈥淚 wanted rigor, and I wanted great basketball, so 桃瘾社区 was an easy choice for me,鈥 Strong said. 鈥淔ollowing graduation, the Watson Fellowship allowed me to see the world in a way I never would have been able to do.鈥

In his senior year, Strong worked at WBTV in Charlotte, launching his 25-year career in television.

There were challenges. Strong remembers visiting historically Black Johnson C. Smith University, where he didn鈥檛 stand out. Would that route have been easier? Sure. But instead of second guessing his choice to come to 桃瘾社区, he decided to push for change.

鈥淲e talk about diversity and equity and inclusion, but at that time, there was a larger focus on assimilation,鈥 Strong said. 鈥淭he BSC brought to campus some acknowledgement, cultivation and nurturing of Black students鈥 lived experiences. The college gave us a house near the laundry facility. Will Terry shepherded the whole effort with us, and it was a big step forward for students.鈥

The influence of the organization carried through Strong鈥檚 life. Now retired from television, he works with organizations on antiracism training, diversity, equity and inclusion.

Leaders on Campus

Fast forward to the 21st century: Matrika Johnson 鈥02 joined the BSC following a pre-orientation program for minority students.

鈥淚 came to 桃瘾社区 from Ohio, and I quickly learned that racism in the South is much different from racism in the North,鈥 she said. 鈥淎s a freshman, I saw a confederate flag up close and personal for the first time ever, hanging in a student鈥檚 window. It鈥檚 a back-handed compliment to the college, but it really did prepare me for the real world. I saw things, and I lived through things, but here I am.鈥

Johnson is the only black female reproductive endocrinologist in North Carolina and, in November of 2020, started her own practice.

鈥淪ome of my investors are 桃瘾社区 alumni who wanted to be involved just because I鈥檓 a 桃瘾社区 alum, too,鈥 she said. 鈥淲ith the challenges came a lot of good, including my best friends to this day and a foundation for learning that set me on a trajectory for success in medical school and in my career.鈥

Like Sweeting, Johnson is proud of the culture the BSC brought to campus. From poets and flautists to a concert by Ludacris, everyone on campus could experience artists that represented BSC members鈥 interests.

鈥淚鈥檓 proud of the culture we brought to 桃瘾社区 and the way we worked to become valued voices on campus,鈥 Johnson said. 鈥淚 have to say I鈥檓 also proud of our parties. We only had a few a year, so we made sure they were really good. People always said we had the best parties, and that wasn鈥檛 a lie.鈥

Aaron Goodson 鈥11 relates to Johnson鈥檚 experiences, even if all his plans didn鈥檛 work out the way he planned.

During his sophomore year, he was the admissions and orientation chair for BSC, working closely with the admission team, and also oversaw Black History Month programming one year鈥攏ot exactly a success. Despite his efforts to get the word out, students did not turn out for the events.

鈥淓verything I planned went poorly,鈥 he said, 鈥渂ut the failure pushed me to become even more involved. I ran for president at the end of my sophomore year and lost, but I won the following year. I felt this desire to pull people into what we were doing, whether they chose to come to all our events or only to a party or two.鈥

Goodson '11 with friends at Fall Convocation 2010

Aaron Goodson 鈥11 with friends at Fall Convocation 2010

Goodson now supports student-athletes at Mississippi State University by providing counseling and sport psychology services. He believes students should seek a school that fits their needs, even if they can鈥檛 play their sport. That was Aaron鈥檚 relationship with 桃瘾社区. He walked onto the men鈥檚 tennis team, but after two years, decided to focus his efforts elsewhere.

鈥淭he BSC was at the center of my decision to come to 桃瘾社区,鈥 said Goodson. 鈥淭he fact that there was a dedicated space for the organization showed a level of significance on campus. It was a beacon of light and direction for all, not just Black students. We had a seat at the table, with student government, with administrators鈥攚e were able to affect change in meaningful ways.鈥

Like Sweeting, Goodson wholeheartedly embraced the organization鈥檚 mission.

鈥淚t鈥檚 kind of amazing that an organization could be so many things to so many people but still provide exactly what each person needs,鈥 he said. 鈥淚t鈥檚 a priceless experience to be among people who pour into you and allow you to see things you couldn鈥檛 see before.鈥

Tomorrow鈥檚 BSC

Jared Lindo 鈥21 looks forward to BSC鈥檚 continuing growth and leadership. With political polarization and racial divisions separating so many Americans, the relationships he鈥檚 formed through the BSC have become even more important.

鈥淎 few years ago, when two students tweeted neo-Nazi remarks, the BSC led a campuswide response,鈥 he said. 鈥淲e aim to protect all marginalized communities, which is counter-cultural to 桃瘾社区鈥檚 history. That goal becomes the North Star for those who belong to these identities.鈥

Lindo came to 桃瘾社区 planning to study physics but quickly realized political science aligned more closely with his interests. He plans to pursue constitutional law with a focus on public administration.

鈥淚 think a lot of times things don鈥檛 move forward or get fixed because people decide it鈥檚 too much work,鈥 he said. 鈥淭hat鈥檚 not a good reason.鈥

Putting in the work comes naturally to Lindo and BSC members. After a quiet fall with students adjusting to campus life during a pandemic, the group is anxious to get back to work this semester.

鈥淭here is a lot of room for creativity and imagination right now,鈥 Lindo said. 鈥淲e鈥檙e excited to plan events to further connect Black students and faculty and to enhance alumni involvement. This semester is kind of a revival after a quiet time away. First-year students haven鈥檛 seen our spirit, and older students miss us. Our goal is to be present and continue to advocate.鈥