Missouri State’s Black Alumni Council, affiliated with the Alumni Association, became a formal organization around 2016, but its members have been serving Black students for decades.
Black Alumni Council President George Winston, who graduated in 1993 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, said the council comprises about 30 paid members. Alumni who donate $50 or more to the Alumni Association on behalf of the council have the opportunity to vote or run for an elected position on the organization’s board. However, all Black alumni are welcome to join the council for free.
Winston said the council was formally organized after a Homecoming committee wanted to get more involved with the university.
“The focus of the council has been, since my involvement, to try to build bridges back to the university in a way to not only allow us to stay connected to the university but also to build strong relationships with the community,” Winston said. “The hope is to provide support and mentorship to those current students who are (enrolled) as well.”
Along with providing resources for current students and alumni, the Black Alumni Council also serves as a liaison between its members and university administration.
Biannually, the council hosts meetings where members, paid and unpaid, have the opportunity to share thoughts, concerns and questions. Winston said first the council will address any concerns they have the ability to, but any larger topics of discussion will be shared with university administration.
“I do think we’ve been able to impact things, even as a young organization, because the people who have volunteered their time to be on the board have been true believers,” Winston said. “If we don’t say anything, no one will know. We have to be willing to step up and share our concerns, even though we may not want to.”
Winston said it is the council’s responsibility to make sure its members feel heard, understood and valued.
One of the council’s true believers is Public Relations Coordinator Damon Stewart, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1987 and a master’s degree in 1998.
Stewart’s passion for giving back to the Black student body began during his junior year of undergrad. Stewart was openly discussing his frustrations when Herb Lunday, a former Missouri State administrator, happened to be listening.
According to Missouri State-West Plains News, Lunday served as the vice president of student affairs at Missouri State’s main campus before transitioning into a new role at the Missouri State-West Plains campus in 1993. Lunday retired from the West Plains campus in 2015 as the dean of students.
“He was listening to me have a conversation in the financial aid office,” Stewart said. “I made a comment about, ‘I can’t believe there are no minority-related scholarships available.’ He brought me into his office and he said, ‘We’re going to do something at this university, and I want you to be involved in it.’ I remember one of our first milestones was getting 20 scholarships for the university.”
One of the 20 scholarships created was the Minority in Leadership Scholarship, now called the Inclusive Excellence Leadership Scholarship, a $5,000 annual scholarship awarded to students who have “demonstrated academic achievement and a commitment to becoming a leader in an inclusive society,” according to Missouri State’s Freshman Admission webpage.
“I was a recipient of the Minority in Leadership Scholarship in 1998,” Winston said, followed by an exclamation of surprise from Stewart. “(Damon’s) conversation — this is truly mind blowing to me because I wasn’t aware of this until (he) just stated this — led to the university creating the Minority Leadership Scholarship program, which brought me there. Then, my participation later on through the Office of Admissions recruiting, allowed me to pay that forward.”
After graduating in 1993, Winston worked as an admissions counselor for the Office of Admissions until 1996.
Now the director of admissions at Washington University in St. Louis, Winston said his involvement in the Black Alumni Council allows him to serve his alma mater’s community.
“From the time I was there in the late ‘80s to early ‘90s, to where we are now, I have seen improvement as it relates to being a Black student at Missouri State and what the institution is trying to do to make lives better for people who are like myself. If there are efforts being made, I want to try to be a part of that, rather than to stand on the sidelines and just watch it.”
2021 Homecoming events
The Black Alumni Council is hosting several events throughout Homecoming weekend.
- Friday, Oct. 15, the council is hosting a biannual meeting from 7-9 p.m. in the Meyer Alumni Center Hospitality Room, located at 300 S. Jefferson Ave. Guest speakers will include President Clif Smart, Board of Governor Chair Amy Counts, Vice President for University Advancement Brent Dunn and Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs of Multicultural Services Rabekah Stewart.
- Saturday, Oct. 16, the council will be participating in the Band of Bears Homecoming Parade at 9 a.m. and BearFest Village, located under the Alumni Association Tent, at 11 a.m.
- At 10 p.m. Saturday, the council will be hosting an after party in the Meyer Alumni Center Hospitality Room for all members.
For Black Alumni Council updates, follow the organization on Facebook @MSUBlackAlumni.
Follow Greta Cross on Twitter, @gretacrossphoto
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