By Scarlet Sims
University of Central Arkansas alumni smiled as they passed a purple pen among themselves and signed their names to a commemorative poster. The group recently made history — creating the university’s first, official Black Alumni Chapter.
“We are on the cusp of something great,” said Franklin Holbrook, ’86, a charter member.
At least eight founding members and several other alumni gathered Saturday, Sept. 21, at Buffalo Alumni Hall to share toasts, hug each other and consider new ways to reach out to black alumni. Holbrook said black alumni share a connective experience at UCA. He wants to see graduates from the 60s through the 2000s build relationships, find ways to fund student scholarships and strengthen ties to UCA.
The chapter joins seven others under the UCA Alumni Association.
Greg Hunt, ’03, said having the chapter creates new opportunities for students. Chapter members want to connect African Americans with jobs, he said.
Hunt is a charter member and organized the kick-off event. Members said he was instrumental in getting the chapter together.
Holbrook said the chapter aims to foster diversity and long-lasting connections at UCA. The group will create a sense of community, he said. In the past, black students felt disconnected from UCA, but Holbrook wants that to change. The chapter will act as a “bridge” for past, present and future students and alumni, he said.
With three generations of black alumni represented, Hunt said the fledgling chapter could easily reach about 1,000 black alumni for its base.
Starting the black chapter comes at a time when UCA is pushing to increase attention to diversity issues, Hunt and others said. UCA officials are working to implement a university-wide diversity plan. Hunt said his chapter is another piece that fits into UCA’s plans.
“We just thought it was a unique way, and a creative way, to reach out,” Hunt said.
As UCA grows, it’s important to embrace its diversity, said Karen Sullards, ’72/’75, UCA Alumni Association Board president. The kick-off event is a way to celebrate diversity at UCA, she said.
Kimberly Gardner, ‘99/’03, said the black chapter is a way for UCA alumni to give back to the university that helped them succeed.
“The purple and gray runs deep,” Gardner told chapter members. “We appreciate the University of Central Arkansas and want to give back to the next generation. We want you to give back in any way you can.”
Holbrook said he promotes UCA more now than when he was a football player. He sees the chapter as a team, one that will create greatness.
“It’s important that we approach this endeavor as something that’s going to be magnificent, as something that’s going to be wonderful,” Holbrook said. “We want to make UCA proud of what we’ve established.”