The great thing about having such a diverse and inclusive community is the added bonus of always having an incredible support network that knows how to throw a great party. The Lyon College Black Student Association is no exception and recently celebrated its 50th year young, recognizing the work and dedication it took to thrive for five decades.
The night began as most Lyon College alumni events do; mingling. As alumni gathered in the hallways of Edwards Commons on Saturday, Feb. 11, old friends and classmates shared tales of BSA’s past. Discussions of how the times have changed were plenty, with Lyon College alumnus, and master of ceremonies for the evening, Terrell King, ’00, commenting about how BSA has affected the community in just the last few decades.
“What an organization, what a legacy that we are here celebrating tonight,” said King. “For those of us who are alumni, think about the impact this organization has had on us even as students back in our day.”
Stories of various outreach projects and community support initiatives filled the air. King’s own experience with BSA was an outreach project in the late 1990s to make sure the Batesville area Walmart stocked hair care and skin care products for African Americans.
After properly catching up, guests made their way from the hallways of Edwards Commons to Patterson Dining Hall for the official dinner and program of the evening. King welcomed the attendees and invited Lyon College President Dr. Melissa P. Taverner to the podium for a few words.
“This year, Lyon College has gotten pretty good at forming important milestones,” said Taverner. “Milestones are a great opportunity to celebrate each other, to honor past successes, and to get together for an awesome party. But the real power of any milestone is that it’s also a starting line for the future. Here’s to what has come before, and here’s to its continuing impact of making a better world, starting in Arkansas.”
The evening’s invocation was led by Lyon College alumnus Reverend Billy Burris, ’79. After the invocation, dinner, made by the ever-impressive Creative Dining Services, was served and the night’s entertainment SYNRG took to the stage. SYNRG, one of Arkansas’ most fun and energetic music ensembles, wooed the crowd with a dinnertime show before once again making way for the night’s program.
Lyon College Professor of English and Director of the Honors Fellows Program Dr. Wesley Beal took to the podium next to speak on the importance and contribution of liberal arts and the power it provides. In his presentation titled Because It Makes a Person Free, Beal outlines the importance and value of a liberal arts education and the self-empowerment it brings alongside it.
“In its original sense, liberal arts has to deal with the education that was fit for a ‘free person’ in Greek society,” said Beal, “That’s one way of thinking about the liberal arts, but I have a different kind of view.”
Beal continued by quoting a historical Roman statesman and philosopher, Seneca, from a letter he had sent to one of his acquaintances.
“He is arguing about what the meaning of what a liberal education is,” said Beal. “It’s not only for a free person, Seneca says, but it is so called the artes liberalis, or liberal arts, because it makes a person free.”
Beal ended his presentation to applause as Lyon College senior Malcolm Howard took to the podium to deliver the history of the Black Student Association, which can be read at the bottom of this article.
And it wouldn’t be a Lyon College event without someone receiving an award for their commitment and service to the community. The inaugural Black Student Association Alumni Award was announced by BSA advisors Cory Godbolt, Associate Dean of Students, and Dr. Branndii Peterson, Executive Director of TRiO.
“The Black Student Association Alumni Award was established this year by the BSA student committee, and it honors a black alum of Lyon College who has shown visible and continuing leadership in one or all of the following areas: education, religion, civil rights, politics, community and civil service,” said Peterson.
Peterson then announced, accompanied by a crowd-fueled drum roll, the recipient of the inaugural award, Clifton Avant, ’78.
“First can I say, my family did a great job at keeping this from me,” said Avant. “It’s an honor to accept this award. I appreciate the College for reaching out to me and asking me to help out with all the things I have done over the years.”
He continued, “One reason I chose to come to Lyon was the educational background. But BSA was here, and they mentored me and guided me. It was an honor for me to come here and achieve the greatness that you all helped me develop. It takes a village, and Lyon College is that village.”
The night ended with a toast to the attendees, and Lyon College, before SYNRG once again took to the stage and the dance floor opened up.
The BSA 50th Anniversary Gala album can be viewed at the following link: https://flic.kr/s/aHBqjAs2aU!
Black Student Association History:
“In the spring of 1964, Dean of Students dick Kinser visited Batesville’s black high school, the E.O. Miller School, in an effort to recruit students for the College. While Kinser was mostly unsuccessful, an E.O. Miller graduate, Mitchael Brown, ’67 heard about Kinser’s visit and decided that he would move back to Lyon College, then Arkansas College, after finishing his second year at Arkansas AM&N. Mitchael Brown was the first African-American to enroll at Lyon College, and would remain the only enrolled African-American student for two years. During his time Brown made friends, got involved in student life, and even won election as vice president of the Student Government Association in 1966. By 1967, the year of Brown’s graduation, the number of African Americans had increased to three, and by 1969, there were seven. The composition of the College’s student body began to better reflect the community’s diversity as the “inclusive spirit of the 1960s” began to make its way southward. By 1970-1971 the Scots were the only all-white basketball team in the state, however, after the arrival of Coach Robert “Lavaughn” Robertson in the fall of 1971, the College experienced a substantial increase in black consciousness. One of the first assembly speakers of President Dan C. West’s era in the fall of 1972 was black civil rights leader and activist Queen Mother Moore. A year later the Arkansas College Black Student Association was established and quickly became an influential organization and consistent advocate for diversity, inclusion, justice, and equity on campus.
Under the leadership of President James Andrews, a Scots basketball player and 2003 Hall of Fame inductee, the BSA had a robust membership in the early years, including William Adair, Ricky Anthony, Landrum Beard, Paul Bolden, Calvin Breedlove, Lillie Brown, Kathleen Calvin, Hebert Casey, Darlene Crow, Dee Dee Davis, Ben Dickens, Woody Dixon, Tia Gafford, Brenda Harrison, Lawrence Hornsby, Elliot Jackson, Peggy Johnson, Darlene Kirk, Mamie Long, David McDaniels, Bobby Oliver, Merrie Rankis, Ann Roaf Forte, Dorothy Robinson, Gwen Robinson, John Sorrell, Lillian Williams, Warren Williams, and Mike Winters among others. Early sponsors included Director of Guidance Services Van Funderburk, Professor of Religion Fitzhugh Spragins, and Director of Housing and Student Activities Sam Mascuilli.
The BSA sponsored its first Black Emphasis Week in April 1974. By the mid-1970s the number of black students enrolled at the College had surpassed 50. In 1975 William Adair became the first African American elected president of the Student Government Association, and in 1976 Adair and Darlene Crow became the first black Mr. and Miss Arkansas College. The first active African American trustee, Little Rock educator Roland Carpenter, came on board in 1984—four years before the first black faculty member, Clara Jennings, joined the College.
During the past 50 years, the Black Student Association has provided cultural enrichment, community support, campus involvement not only here on campus but also in the community at large. The BSA, along with the Black History Month Committee, sponsors a month-long series of events in celebration of achievements by African Americans in February. The BSA also helps to address issues affecting the black community through open forums encouraging student engagement. Currently, the BSA boasts 32 active members and a host of alumni members. Current sponsors include Executive Director of TRiO Programs Dr. Branndii Peterson and Dean of Students Cory Godbolt.”