Speech Inaugurating the SMC Black Alumni Chapter's Trailblazer Award

By JP Musgrove

Good evening, it’s great to be with you tonight. My name is JP Musgrove and I represent the class of 2007 and currently serve as the president-elect for the Alumni Board of Directors.

Before proceeding any further, I’d like to take a moment (on behalf of the entire Alumni Board) to extend heartfelt thank yous to Mike McAlpin, Jamila Buckner, their entire team (including the Alumni Office and its staff), in addition to all members of the Black Student Union. This has been an incredible event thus far and we recognize and appreciate the hard work and thoughtfulness each of you has put into tonight's event. We’d also like to again recognize Father Edward Branch for his inspiring words on the distinctiveness of the African American Catholic journey.

As part of the second installment for this evening’s events, I have the honor and privilege of declaring tonight as the inauguration of the Saint Mary’s College Black Alumni Chapter Trailblazer Award. The Trailblazer Award stands to annually recognize African American groundbreakers, innovators and pioneers. It serves to continually celebrate and honor the foundations that were laid so future generations could emerge and stand on higher ground.

In keeping with this, it is with great joy and appreciation that we designate Mary Ellen Pleasant as the first recipient of the annual Trailblazer Award and we applaud her tonight. As an abolitionist, philanthropist, boarding house owner and former slave, Mary Ellen Pleasant dedicated her life toward the support of abolitionist efforts in the state of California. Known as the mother of California’s civil rights movement, Mary Ellen Pleasant fought tirelessly in pursuit of blazing new trails for Black Americans throughout the state. As a successful businesswoman and entrepreneur, Mary Ellen Pleasant gave generously to African American businesses and various charities, schools and churches - including the effort to build (and rebuild after the fire) the Saint Mary’s campus in Oakland. As one of SMC’s initial donors, archival records report, Mary Ellen Pleasant donated at least $8,000 (in today’s figures) to the College.

She possessed a heart of great passion to give and to serve, so those around her and those following could inherit a better life. She undoubtedly departed from conventional assumptions of black women in the 1860s and chose to actively lay new ground on behalf of the social justice causes she held dear. Forever linked to St. Mary’s College and black history, it’s only fitting - in this year being the College’s 150th year anniversary, the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and, soon coming, the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday - that we recognize Mary Ellen Pleasant’s efforts as a distinguished and accomplished black pioneer and trailblazer. 

To accept this award tonight, I’d like to introduce Mr. Evan Richardson from the class of 2014. Evan will receive this award in Ms. Pleasant's honor, and please join me in warmly welcoming Evan as we celebrate the pioneering legacy of Miss Mary Ellen Pleasant.