Black alumni reunion promotes family, history and unity

By Gus Bode

Participants remember the past as they look to the future Alumni_7/22_bt

This past weekend, the ninth bi-annual Black Alumni Reunion prompted a few tears, plenty of laughter and a new understanding of the words history, family and pride.

From July 17 through July 20, SIUC was revisited by people of its past and future. Hundreds of black alumni from across the nation came back to an important piece of their history to reconnect with friends and, most importantly, to set an example for what can be accomplished through making the right choices in life.


The theme of the reunion was “Coming Home to Our Roots,” and Greg Scott, assistant director of the SIU Alumni Association and reunion coordinator, explained the importance of the event and its guests.

“The purpose of our organization is to help people stay connected,” Scott said. “I believe that if you had a positive experience here at SIU, being an active member of the Black Alumni is a way for you to maintain important ties and keep in touch with an important aspect of your success.”

The reunion weekend consisted of workshops, an open market, receptions, special youth programs, sports tournaments, a picnic, a play and informal afterhours parties. Special guests included nutritionist, comedian and civil rights pioneer Dick Gregory and artistic director and playwright John M. O’Neal Jr.

Three of the nine black students who integrated Arkansas Central High School in 1957 were also in attendance. Those honored Little Rock Nine members, who are also SIU alumni, were Minnijean Trickey, Thelma Wair and Terrance Roberts.

Scott said that his expectations of the reunion were high.

“We anticipated over 200 guests and their families to come down, and we’ve worked hard to make sure everybody has a good time,” Scott said.

During the weekend, the Hall of Fame area inside the Student Center was transformed into a market that showcased a variety of scents, jewelry and other gifts. Vendors proudly displayed literature by black authors, blankets in rich ethnic hues and dozens of oils, incense bundles and perfumes.


With many guests arriving on Thursday, a Bid Whist mixer was scheduled that evening to give the card players a chance to display their skills. Friday was a day of workshops that focused on financial aid topics to build an understanding of financial aid for the college student, investments, retirement planning and saving for college tuition.

At a press conference Friday, the three present members of the Little Rock Nine were introduced by Joseph Brown, director of Black American Studies, as “distinguished guests, role models and friends of the world who had performed an exemplary service to our country.”

Trickey, Wair and Roberts then spoke about the difficulties that surrounded them when they attended a high school where they were not wanted, surrounded by hate and days filled with fear.

“I didn’t know a person could be alive and feel that kind of fear,” Roberts said. “Folks remained convinced that we didn’t belong there, and we felt that every day. We had to actually sign an affidavit saying that we would not participate in any extracurricular activities.

“Imagine being a teenager and being excluded from things like the basketball team or the prom.”

Trickey said in retrospect, the cruel attitudes of the community were never about them personally.

“Everything we went through was all part of a strategy,” Trickey said. “It wasn’t about us. It was about making a group feel unworthy.”

Wair echoed these sentiments and explained why she kept attending the school, despite her fears.

“I was a little girl with a bad heart, and there were many mornings I just didn’t want to go,” Wair said. “We had no friends outside of the nine of us. But in the end, I knew that if I left, the part that I shouldered would be put on the others.

“I had to stay for them.”

In the afternoon, the three members of the Little Rock Nine and alumnus Darzel Price of the Wrigley Company spoke to a youth group about the importance of education and a positive attitude upon entering the workforce. They also stressed the importance of making decisions that sometimes have students separating themselves from the popular crowd.

The small room in Morris Library eventually swelled to standing room only. When Chancellor Walter Wendler presented the Little Rock Nine members with awards of recognition, the crowd responded with a thunderous round of applause.

After a morning of golf and tennis on Saturday, alumni came together at the east end of the Student Center for a picnic.

Groups of men and women sought cover from the sun under small clumps of trees, playing card games and dominoes. Near the balcony were a number of vendors, selling wares similar to what was available at the Student Center. The sounds of Earth Wind and Fire and Al Green hung in the air with the heat. Inside, a cafeteria-style food line was set up and long tables were filled with people enjoying their meals.

It was a union of laughter, food and family, and guests commented on why such an event was important.

Sharon Lockett, a Chicago native and 1984 graduate with a degree in administration of justice, said all of the reunion events are important.

“These events are an opportunity to reconnect with people you haven’t seen and network,” Lockett said. “It’s hot as all get out, but it’s all a lot of fun. I like seeing how the school has changed and the growth going on in Carbondale.”

St. Louis native Jewell Reynolds, wife of Richard Reynolds, former alumni president, agreed.

“It’s good to see old friends making connections again. It’s really good to see the older generations here sharing experiences and advice to the younger generations,” Reynolds said. “Coming back to this University gives you another outlook on where you are now, and in a way, can strengthen your purpose in life.”

“Those of us here who came down in the 1950s and ’60s and stayed, are the ones who really stuck it out, and coming to the reunion and seeing all these young people here helps us see that our struggle with racism was not in vain.”

The banquet that evening featured many guests, which included Mayor Brad Cole and Gregory as the keynote speaker.

A prayer breakfast on Sunday was the final event and last opportunity for many alumni to bid friends a final farewell.

Brown summed up what the point of the reunion has always been.

“My heart stands up in gratitude that our guests are here and sharing a part of their lives with us,” Brown said. “This is about family teaching family for the future.”

Reporter Bertie Taylor can be reached at [email protected]