U.Va. Alumni Association hosts biennial Black Alumni Weekend

Premier alumni program aims to reconnect alumni to the University community

The Alumni Association begins planning for the events of Black Alumni Weekend about a year in advance. Andrew Walsh | Cavalier Daily

Black Alumni Weekend welcomed alumni, students and families back to Grounds with events beginning last Thursday evening and continued through Sunday at noon. As a biennial celebration dating back to 1985, BAW hosts a variety of educational, career networking and social activities. 

BAW brought in roughly 2000 people, with the largest event being Saturday afternoon’s Cookout and Talent Expo at McIntire Amphitheatre. The cookout featured student performing groups from around Grounds in addition to welcoming alumni participation.

Catlin Liverman — director of alumni events for the Alumni Association — commented on the BAW and some of the events hosted.

“We [expected] about 2000 alumni and their friends and families at that event,” Liverman said. “The latter half of the event, the Talent Expo, we invite student organizations to perform. So, X-Tasee Dance Crew, a bunch of the greek groups will be stepping — it’s a really great opportunity for the students and the alumni to come together and to celebrate.”

Other events included sports tournaments, a “Black Panther” viewing and a series of flash seminars — short seminars with focused topics — led by University faculty. 

“Comfort Zones for Racism,” a flash seminar given by English assoc. prof. Lisa Woolfork addressed “the larger conversation about Charlottesville and U.Va. as a hub for white supremacist aggression; how both spaces continue to perpetuate comfort zones for racism; and where to go from here,” according to the BAW website.

Flash seminar “New Hill,” held in the Newcomb Theatre, addressed African American community-led development in Charlottesville. Yolunda Harrel, CEO of New Hill Development Corporation, and Christine Mahoney, prof. of Public Policy and Politics and director of Social Entrepreneurship at U.Va. will “discuss a community development initiative in the heart of Charlottesville aimed at growing the African American middle class through expanded Black business and home ownership in the historic district of Vinegar Hill.”

Many events were open to students with registration. Liverman commented that student participation is one of the driving factors behind the timing of the event. 

“It’s actually one of the reasons why Black Alumni Weekend is held during the academic year,” Liverman said. “The interaction between the alumni and students is really important. And so it’s traditionally held this first week in April to provide those opportunities. There was an invitation that went out to students inviting them to participate in some of the events throughout the weekend.”

The Black Alumni Weekend planning process is extensive, beginning roughly a year in advance. The BAW’s self-governed alumni planning committee is a major source of its success, allowing alumni to celebrate themselves and each other through a self-designed program.

“Planning starts about a year in advance when the Alumni Association works with some really great leaders in the alumni community to build a committee of about a 150 alumni from all years,” Liverman said. “And the committee meets in Charlottesville over the summer to design the events of the weekend. So we talk through what kind of speaker events they want to hear, and what kind of music, and who the DJs should be, and the whole structure of the weekend.” 

For the next nine months, the logistical portions of the planning are worked out while the alumni committee works on outreach, networking and spreading the word about the celebration. Registration opens for BAW in the winter. 

Liverman also explained the major goals behind Black Alumni Weekend — connecting students and alumni to each other, reacquainting alumni with the University, and creating networking opportunities.

“So it’s held every other year to bring alumni back to Grounds, to see what is new, to be involved in conversation, to engage with current students, and really to reconnect with each other and with the University.”

Liverman continued to say that Black Alumni Weekend is unique because the events are planned and designed by alumni, allowing them to choose how best maintain the community of Black Alumni at the University.  

“The event is so special, and one of the reasons why is that it really is designed by the alumni,” Liverman said. “The University provides all of the support that the alumni need to make this happen, but it really is a weekend that the alumni are fully weighing in on and fully creating to reconnect with each other and reconnect with the University and the students.”

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