Saint Mary’s College Black Student Convocation: A Powerful and Affirming Experience

Saint Mary’s fourth annual Black Student Convocation, a signature event of 44 Days Honoring Black History, was powerful, engaging, thought-provoking, and empowering—delivering inspiration and memorable outcomes for the Black undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, staff, and invited guests in attendance.

Joy, Fun, and Community was the theme of the Black Student Convocation, and it delivered on the promise of providing a welcoming and safe place for honest and open dialogue, expressions of new and shared experiences, and inter-generational stories that helped to deepen the understanding of the connections between past and present life challenges.

“I was especially struck by the plenary session on Black Male Perspectives: Telling Their Story Across The Generations, facilitated by James Johnson,” shared Kathy Littles, associate provost for faculty affairs and senior diversity officer. Johnson is the College’s director of educational technology and IT services for media, events and conferences. “Four generations of Black men were in conversation about their experiences of being Black and male at Saint Mary's College, and in the Town of Moraga. While some of the struggles and challenges have changed, sadly much remains the same.” These comments were echoed by Evette Castillo Clark, dean of students. “We were purposeful in getting a speaker from each generation—Baby Boomer, Generation X, Millennial, and Generation Z. The personal accounts, circumstances, and era may differ, but the incidents experienced seem to go unchanged.”

Legacy Lee, director of the Intercultural Center and staff chair of the Black Lives Matter Committee was similarly moved by a panel moderated by Kulia Osborn ’22, student chair of the Black Lives Matter Committee. Her discussion with student speakers Juliana Davis ’22, and Roxelle Thomas ’22, focused on their experiences as Black female students at Saint Mary’s. “The conversation between the three current female students was enlightening and insightful into how Black students from out-of-state experience Saint Mary’s College today,” said Lee. Clark also expressed that the session was “moving, very authentic, and real.” She added, “They talked about their appearance, hair, and being easily judged.”

The Black undergraduate and graduate student attendees also enjoyed an alumni career panel with Black Saint Mary’s alumni, a panel discussion with Black leaders in higher education, a session on social and economic entrepreneurship, and a fun session on creative life hacks and strategies that people use to help make life a little easier. A Kahoot trivia game, which focused on Blacks throughout Saint Mary’s history, brought amusement, laughter, and hidden jewels of information with every question. “Kulia Osborne pulled off a fantastic trivia set,” added Clark. “She created a historical archive of Black Saint Mary’s trivia that should be filed in our College archives.”

The Black Student Convocation filled every moment of the five-hour event, which included a warm welcome from Zahra Ahmad, assistant professor of politics and faculty chair of the Black Lives Matter Committee, a moving video rendition of the Black National Anthem, and the pouring of libations, an African ceremonial tradition of paying homage to the ancestors.

Attendees were also welcomed by President James Donahue, Interim Executive Vice President Margaret Kasimatis, and Kathy Littles, previously identified above.

“The Black Student Convocation was about having real conversations about real issues in our community,” said Littles. The event concluded with everyone repeating the resounding refrain, “We are here. We are whole. We are honored.”