Black Alumni Summit Brings Thought Leadership to Campus

Alumni community discusses racial justice, arts, philanthropy, and more

Georgetown University and Slavery panel
Alumnus Ayo Aruleba (C’17), Professors Soyica Colbert (C’01) and Marcia Chatelain, and Mélisande Short-Colomb (C’21)—a current student whose ancestors were among the 272 men, women, and children sold in 1838 by the Maryland Jesuits—prepare to discuss Georgetown’s history with slavery before an audience of hundreds of Black alumni, students, and faculty. President DeGioia is seated in the front row.

By Kate Colwell and Chelsea Burwell

More than 200 Black alumni—including CEOs, entrepreneurs, artists, activists, and elected officials—returned to the Hilltop last month for the second Black Alumni Summit. This biennial gathering, planned by and for undergraduate alumni—under the leadership of Co-Chairs Tammee Thompson (C'91) and Eric Woods (B'91)—convened with the goal of spurring critical conversations and strengthening community connections.

“To share is a gift and nobody can put a value on it. Georgetown taught me the difference between donating and giving. Donating is a hobby. Giving is a passion.”

—Lloyd Campbell (B'79)

From dissecting life and politics in a post-Obama America to navigating and establishing spaces for Black student success and community on the Hilltop, this year's summit placed many important topics at the center of its panels and discussions: racial justice and politics; storytelling; health and wellness; entrepreneurship; philanthropy; and the university's slavery, memory, and reconciliation work.

networking event
Alumni socialize and offer gems of advice during a networking event with undergraduate students.

"We're thrilled to have assembled such an accomplished group of speakers—their depth and breadth of expertise ensured that our program was timely and incredibly engaging," Thompson said. "But what I found most remarkable and inspiring was the palpable enthusiasm among attendees for each other and for Georgetown. This community is family, and the Black Alumni Summit gives us the opportunity to reconnect in a meaningful way."

Recent graduates and longtime Hoya volunteers alike say they gained new relationships and personal meaning from the summit.

George Smith (C'14) attended the first summit in 2015, and when planning began for the second summit, he joined several committees.

"I've always been amazed by the connection between Hoyas," Smith said. "No matter who you meet, from any walk of life, you will note unquestionable similarities across perspectives and values stemming from our time on the Hilltop. I am especially moved to be surrounded at this event by fellow alumni who also share the distinctly taxing, yet powerful experience of being Black while developing at Georgetown. It's gratifying to finally be among a community who can deeply identify with your nuanced identity and, because of this, help you realize your potential."

networking event
Summit attendees listen as Short-Colomb shares her experiences since coming to Georgetown. She is a descendant of the 272 women, children, and men enslaved on Jesuit plantations in Maryland. During the Georgetown and Slavery panel, Short-Colomb shared the possibility of collaboration amongst the university, the descendant community, and Georgetown's Black alumni.

Ivana Tucker (C'14) attended the summit for the first time this year in part to gain perspective on her path forward as a writer; she was especially excited about the Telling Our Stories alumni panel. The reconnection to Georgetown prompted her to start wondering how she can support current students.

"We can't do it by ourselves," Tucker said. "I'm still figuring out my own next steps, but ultimately, I want to be in a position to help someone else."

Hillary Thomas-Lake (F'88, P'18) has lived that commitment for the past 30 years, volunteering and giving back to Hoyas in many different ways.

"If you had even one moment of joy at your alma mater, you should find ways to stay involved. It's a nice thing to do, but it's also a way to reconnect with who you are at your core," said Thomas-Lake. "There are some basic values that Georgetown holds dear that we were able to learn to live explicitly while we were here: informed action, thoughtful engagement, care for the whole community. Wherever you are, you can make a difference. Those values get reinforced in a different way at this kind of gathering."

“I owe a huge debt to Georgetown. I give because Georgetown took a chance on a little skinny girl from the projects. I have to pay that forward.”

—Traci Higgins (C'86)

Current senior Ndeye Ndiaye (C'18) walked away from the summit with invaluable advice from alumni in the creative media industry and is enthusiastic about returning for the 2019 summit as an alumna. "Seeing the path that so many of these successful alumni have taken is inspiring; it just reiterates that my opportunities are limitless. I hope that alumni will stay connected with current students. More than anything, I cannot wait to see how my peers and I will be contributing to this summit in the future."