The Yale Black Men’s Union honored six black women — three of them Yale undergraduates — in the Pierson College dining hall Friday night as part of the first annual “Tribute to Black Women.”
In an effort to acknowledge what the group considers black women’s vital and under-appreciated contributions to society, the BMU presented awards to Naima Coster ’08, Crystal L. Paul-Laughinghouse ’08 and Fummi Showole ’08 as Senior Leaders. In addition, the organization recognized two women — Elizabeth Alexander ’84, professor of American and African-American Studies at Yale, and Kimberly Goff-Crews ’83 LAW ’86, vice president and dean of students at the University of Chicago — as Distinguished Alumni and presented its Woman of the Year award to Gwendolyn Sykes, past CFO of NASA and the current CFO of Yale.
BMU leaders sought to use the tribute to draw attention to the significance of women in personal lives and society by honoring women who have excelled in their respective fields. The honorees were nominated by various academic departments.
“Acknowledging women is something that needs to be always done,” BMU member OrLando Yarborough III GRD ’09 said. “Women are our better halves.”
Coster is a founding member of both the Coalition for Campus Unity and The North Star, an online social-justice discussion forum for black students at Yale. Paul-Laughinghouse is on the Founding Board of Minorities in Medicine Movement, which exposes underrepresented youth to the medical profession, and acts as editor of publications at the Afro-American Cultural Center. Showole is an ethnic counselor for Silliman College, a CCU founding member and a council chair for the Black Church at Yale.
The event began with an opening speech by BMU members Isaiah DeLeon Mares ’10 and Kwaku Osei ’11. Luciano Coster ’11 and Rodney Jeremiah Reynolds ’10 then followed with speeches on BMU history and a discussion on the difficulties of being both black and female, such as social discrimination.
The goal of the tribute, Reynolds explained, was to “bring volume to the quiet and remembrance to the forgotten.”
BMU President Casey Gerald ’09 also stressed the importance of celebrating black women for their contribution to society.
“Black women are vital and instrumental to our society,” Gerald told the News after the speeches, “and we wanted to show our support for them.”
After the presentation of the awards, the six honorees delivered speeches about community and the black female experience.
In her keynote address, Sykes used her own professional experience to discuss the importance of functioning as a community, pointing out that she could not have achieved what she has without the backing of her friends and family.
“The true sense of individual is not only commitment to education but also commitment to each other,” Sykes said.
Alexander’s speech also centered on the importance of support within the black community.
“Black love is a powerful thing,” she said
The BMU, which was founded last fall, was designed as a means of bringing students together for unity and service. The group also focuses on fundraising for public-service organizations and local youth-mentoring programs.