An MIT Alumni Association Publication

More than 300 alumni, students, faculty, staff, and friends convened in Cambridge Nov. 2 – 4  to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Black Students’ Union (BSU) with the BAMIT Capstone Weekend: The Road to 50: The Power of Community. Hosted by the Black Alumni/ae of MIT (BAMIT) on campus, the event featured panel discussions, student presentations, reflections, a gala, and more.

The BAMIT Capstone Committee worked closely with Institute leaders and MIT community members to focus the weekend on honoring the history and strength of the black community at MIT and explored challenges and opportunities for the future. "I was humbled by the generosity and willingness of those that worked so diligently to make this event possible," says BAMIT Capstone Committee member and former BAMIT chair, Michelle Harton '83. "The Capstone started as a dream and after the weekend was over, I realized that I had witnessed a series of miracles and that dreams do come true."

During the event, panel discussions featured such topics as enhancing the black experience at MIT and Afrofuturism—an artistic movement that combines futuristic themes with elements of black culture and history. At the Afrofuturism Panel, MIT Media Lab Director Joi Ito and Assistant Professor Danielle Wood ’04, SM ’08, PhD ’12 highlighted the impact of movies like Black Panther and Star Trek on science fiction, technology, and culture. "Each program element was an opportunity for learning and engagement," explains BAMIT Capstone Committee member Elaine Harris '78.  "Having a chance to hear and meet faculty, staff and students across the weekend was very special."

John Silvanus Wilson, former president of Morehouse College, moderated the Presidential Panel: Building Community to Make a Better World, featuring Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute President and life member of the MIT Corporation Shirley Ann Jackson ’68, PhD ’73, Harvard President Lawrence Bacow ’72, and MIT President L. Rafael Reif.

Students and current BSU members were also active in the event, as Mahi Elango ’20, Kelvin Green II ’21, and Charlotte Minsky ’20 discussed their research on MIT’s early roots in the slave economy. Alumni shared their expertise in 18 lightning talks on their work in a number of fields—from dance to STEM education—and its impact on the community.

The Capstone Weekend also honored the work and dedication of 11 alumni, faculty, and friends in supporting the black community at MIT with the Capstone Gala Awards. Jackson, along with Professor and former Chancellor of MIT Phillip L. Clay PhD ’75, former Dean for Graduate Students Isaac M. Colbert HM ’06, Professor Wesley Harris, former Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Mary Olivia Hope, former Associate Dean for Student Support Services Ayida Mthembu, former MIT Alumni Association President and former MIT Corporation member Linda Sharpe ’69, Senior Associate Dean for Graduate Education Blanche E. Staton, and Adjunct Professor Emeritus Clarence G. Williams HM ’09 were honored with Lifetime Service Awards for their dedicated service to the black community at MIT.

Executive Director of the National Society for Black Engineers (NSBE) Karl W. Reid ’84, SM ’85 was also honored with a Transformer Award for his work as a change agent and for his positive impact on the black experience at MIT, while founder of Freelon Architects, Philip Freelon MArch ’77 received the Roots and Exponents Award for instilling hope for the future of black communities at MIT and beyond. 

Looking forward, Harton says she hopes lessons learned from the weekend turn into actions. "My hopes for the future of the BSU, BAMIT, and the black community at MIT are that we will all continue to work together to do our part to make a better world," she says. Harris echoes that sentiment, "I hope attendees left feeling uplifted and reminded that they are part of an important community and legacy at the Institute. While much has been accomplished, there is still much to do and that, together, we have an important voice and contribution to make."

Learn more about the impact the MIT BSU continues to have on students and alumni at the video above and catch up on photos in moments from the weekend on social media at #BAMITBSU.