Black Men’s Union honors women

The Yale Black Men’s Union held its fifth annual Tribute to Black Women Friday night, honoring five notable black women from the Yale and New Haven communities.

At the ceremony, which drew roughly 120 people to the Omni Hotel on Temple Street, the Black Men’s Union presented awards to LaTisha Campbell ’12, Diandra Fermin ’12, Liane Membis ’12, Janifer Lighten ’83 of New Rochelle, N.Y. and Shirley Love Joyner of New Haven. William Desmond ’12, the union’s vice president, said the tribute is mainly designed to celebrate female leaders, but also in part to dispel the stereotype that black men are disrespectful to women in their communities.

To help offset event and dinner costs, male students paid $15 and non-students $60 to attend the tribute. Women were admitted free of charge, and each received a rose from members of the Black Men’s Union.

The “Emerging Trailblazer” recipients were nominated by Yale students and others who visited the Black Men’s Union website, Desmond said, adding that the Union selected three winners from among 12 nominees. The three undergraduates named emerging trailblazers were all given plaques to honor their accomplishments.

Campbell, the first honoree, won the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Research Fellowship in 2010 and now volunteers in prisons, New Haven public schools and education centers for juvenile detainees. Her senior research project focuses on improving the education of incarcerated youths.

The Black Men’s Union next recognized Fermin for her leadership on Yale’s campus, including as former president of the Dominican Student Association and as former head recruitment coordinator of the Yale Admissions Office.

The third to receive an award, Membis, was praised for founding Liberette, an online magazine for women of color. Membis’ work with Liberette won her the 2010 Matrix award from New York Women in Communications, Inc., alongside Tina Fey and Oprah Winfrey. Membis is also the reigning Miss Black America Connecticut and president of Yale’s chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, whose members shouted a sorority cheer when she went onstage.

Membis said she was honored to be among the winners of the “Emerging Trailblazer” award, who she had admired when she attended past tributes.

Joyner received the “Woman of the Year” award for 43 years of public service, particularly as a teacher and administrator in New Haven public schools. A mother of two, Joyner said her work in public schools has made her appreciate the importance of responsible parenting, which she said is often overlooked in discussions of school reform.

Lighten did not attend the ceremony. Her daughter, Alexis Lighten ’12, accepted the “Distinguished Alumna” award on her behalf.

The tribute also honored several members of the Yale Dining staff this year for decades of service to the University.

Tribute attendee Tiyhannah Shuntich ’15 said she was initially intimidated by the honorees’ accomplishments, but by the end of the ceremony was inspired to follow their leads.

“At first I was like, ‘Oh, my goodness,’ but now I know that they felt that way, too,” Shuntich said. “They made me think I can go from a point of ‘Oh, my goodness’ to being good at everything.”

The Black Men’s Union was founded in fall 2007 and held its first tribute the following spring in the Pierson College dining hall.

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