From across the nation and the world, Syracuse University’s Black and Latino/a alumni tuned into their computers on Oct. 16 to participate in the first-ever Virtual Coming Back Together (CBT) reunion. Over the course of 13 hours, alumni had the opportunity to reconnect and explore issues of concern during this unprecedented, unpredictable year, as well as to share their experiences and wisdom with current students.
“While hosting an in-person reunion became impossible due to the pandemic, we didn’t want to postpone altogether,” says Miko Horn ’95, director of alumni events, multicultural advancement. “We wanted to provide the connectivity, the service, the love and joy that comes with CBT.”
During the daytime portion of the event, alumni and students had the opportunity to tune into topical panel discussions ranging from politics and the election to COVID-19 and social justice. Special guests included Ramon Escobar, vice president of talent recruitment and vice president of diversity and inclusion at CNN Worldwide, who spoke on career development, and Sunny Hostin, Emmy Award-winning journalist, former federal prosecutor, and co-host of ABC’s The View, who was interviewed about her recent memoir, I am These Truths, by broadcast journalist Marcus Solis ’91.
A copy of Hostin’s book was offered as an incentive to anyone making a donation of $500 or above during the event, because like any CBT, the reunion was also a platform to showcase the Our Time Has Come (OTHC) Scholarship program and to raise funds to support it.
Continuing the CBT tradition of honoring our own, a special tribute was made to Bea González, former vice president for community engagement and special assistant to the Chancellor, who retired on July 1, and Janis Mayes, associate professor of African American studies and creator of the Paris Noir program, who will retire on Jan. 1, 2021. Both women have been influential in the lives of students of color at Syracuse University for decades.
For many, a highlight was the men’s and women’s Orange Table Talk sessions that provided the opportunity for alumni to connect and discuss their own life paths and issues of concern during this strange and difficult year. “So many amazing stories were shared,” says OTHC Scholar Ifeoluwa Ojo ’23, of the women’s Table Talk. “The session made me reflect and learn so much about purpose. I got to see and hear firsthand how different the college and career journey is for everyone and how so many unexpected things can place you off or on track.”
Conversation in the men’s session focused on fatherhood and finances. “Many of the alumni were fathers and talked about how their families were their greatest achievements,” says OTHC Scholar Gabriel Prepetit ’22, who will serve as student co-chair of CBT 2021. “I had never thought about things that way. They also talked a lot about investing and offered advice that they wished they had known before having left school. The whole experience was great.”
Fundraising took center stage come evening, during the first-ever OTHC Telethon.
There were guest appearances from OTHC donors and the announcement of major gifts and new scholarship endowments from L. Kelly Atkinson ’79, Juli G’97 and Jim Boeheim ’66, G’73, Andrew Bryan Burnett ’88, Candace Carnage’90, Sherman Douglas ’89, Darlene ’84 and Deborah Harris’ 84, Jamille McCullough ’95, Shelia Payton ’70, Roland Williams ’97, G’98, Charles Wynder Jr. ’86, and $150,000 in corporate support from Juvare, spearheaded by Reggie Acloque ’99, senior vice president and a former OTHC Scholar. Altogether, nearly $700,000 was raised, far exceeding the $500,000 goal.
Saving the best for last, the evening culminated with a special announcement from Chancellor Kent Syverud, who shared news that Kevin Richardson would receive an honorary degree from Syracuse University.
Richardson, a member of the Exonerated Five, was previously honored by Syracuse University with the creation of the Our Time Has Come Kevin Richardson Scholarship, which was announced during his visit to campus last September. Now, the University was formally bringing Richardson into the fold with an honorary undergraduate degree (see companion article). “I warmly welcome you into the Orange family,” said Syverud.
The announcement was the perfect capstone to the event. “For Black and Brown alumni, Virtual CBT was a bright spot in an otherwise very difficult year,” says Rachel Vassel ’91, assistant vice president, multicultural advancement. “Those who participated really enjoyed being connected with their Orange family and providing some invaluable inspiration for our students.”