The Black Men’s Union honored a professor of Africana Studies and a managing director from the financial firm Morgan Stanley at its fourth annual Tribute to Black Women ceremony Friday.
The Union chose Carla Harris of Morgan Stanley to receive its Woman of the Year award, and gave its Distinguished Alumna award to Tricia Rose ’84, an expert on hip hop dance who teaches at Brown and recently published an award-winning book called “Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America.” The event, held at the Omni Hotel on Temple Street and attended by around 200 students and faculty, was held to recognize the achievements of all women in general, and especially black women, whose contributions have been overlooked throughout history, Vice President Marcus Strong ’11 said.
In his opening address, 2010 Co-Chair William Smith ’12 said men often take the women in their lives for granted, adding that the event was an opportunity for the members of his organization to give the women in their lives the recognition they deserved.
“The event is not to absolve us of our failures, but to remind us to be better,” he said. “Tonight is a night of celebration, admiration and appreciation.”
After receiving her award, Harris spoke about her career, and was given a standing ovation by the audience. She delivered what she called three “pearls of wisdom” about her success. She first emphasized that “perception is the co-pilot of reality,” referring to the way a person can mold the way others see them by speaking and acting like the person they want to be. During her early years at Morgan Stanley, she purposefully incorporated the word “strong” into her vocabulary, frequently using it to describe herself until it defined her reputation. Her other two pieces of advice were that “nobody can be you better than you” and that one must “expect to succeed.”
The Union also presented a prize for exceptional achievements at Yale, called the Emerging Trailblazers award, to undergraduates Rhiana Gunn-Wright ’11, Ivuoma Onyeador ’11 and Kayla Vinson ’11.
The Black Men’s Union was founded in 2007 and begun its Tribute to Black Women in 2008. That year, the group chose Yale’s chief financial officer Gwendolyn Sykes as its Woman of the Year, and gave the Distinguished Alumna award to both Kimberly Goff-Crews ’83, Dean of Students at the University of Chicago and Elizabeth Alexander ’84, a Yale professor and former Poet Laureate who read her work at the inauguration of President Barack Obama.
“The main criterion is women who have gone above and beyond the call of duty in their fields,” Strong said. “They all share a common tie: the sense of service in their lives.”
Event co-chair Cole Weston ’13 added that the awards are important because black women “tend to be ignored” because of both their race and their gender.
Kwaku Osei ’11, who chaired the event in 2009, said it has changed a great deal since it began.
“My freshman year the event was held in Pierson dining hall,” Osei said. “The next year it was moved to the Omni and it has grown exponentially since.”
Ten audience members interviewed said they were impressed by quality of the event, from the speeches to the food.
“You never hear the guy’s perspective,” Mahlet Assefa ’14 said. “It’s nice to know what they’re thinking for once, on our influence on them.”
The organization presented every woman in the audience with a red carnation. Admission was free for women, and $15 for men.