“Where we are today started at Montclair State,” says Joanne Bowman ’82, director of human resources at Columbia University, referring to the Black students she knew during her days as a college student and later as a young alumna. “I found myself wanting to reconnect with this network, to do something together, something bigger and more meaningful.”
Brenda Coleman-Caldwell ’78, an assistant director of human resources for New Jersey Turnpike Authority, felt the same way. “Joanne and I had kept in touch with a lot of people through the Black Alumni Association, but that organization was dissolved,” she says. In the years since, their idea of what an alumni organization could be began to change and grow.
They decided that it was time to have a conversation with their friend Greg Collins ’79, who also happened to be the newly appointed chair of the Montclair State University Foundation board.
“Brenda invited me to what I thought was a casual lunch,” Collins recalls with a chuckle. “Instead, she laid out their vision for the Black Alumni Advisory Council. I loved what I was hearing!”
“Now is the right time, given everything that has been happening in our community and around the world,” Bowman explains. “Change is coming to the surface, putting diversity and social justice front and center in our schools, churches and neighborhoods. There is a sense of urgency that we want to build on.”
With the tag line We’re Here and Engaged, the new Black Alumni Advisory Council will comprise 11 to 35 members representing African descent in the Diaspora. Bowman and Coleman-Caldwell will serve as the organization’s first president and vice president, respectively. The overarching themes of their work will be building networks and giving back.
“It is important to recognize that Montclair State is not the same as it was even 20 years ago,” Collins adds. “Then, it was a commuter college with relatively few resident students. Today the student population is much larger and much more diverse, and there are so many ways that students can benefit and learn from our Black alumni. It’s a resource that we have not fully tapped.”
“Our inaugural project is a homecoming event,” Coleman-Caldwell says. “We are excited to invite alumni back to campus to see how their alma mater has grown and to reconnect with each other. We want to acknowledge our footprint at the University, and to share our excitement and joy about how diverse Montclair State has become since we were students here.”
A new website, networking and career opportunities for students, and Black History Month events are also planned, and the organization will work to raise funds to support the James E. Harris Scholarship and Book Fund as well as Educational Opportunity Fund scholarships and book funds.
Coleman-Caldwell sees the new Council as an opportunity to strengthen the bonds between Black alumni and Montclair State. “The former Black Alumni Association’s activities operated outside of the University,” she says. “This time, we will have an organization that is working hand-in-hand with the Montclair State community.”
“This is an exciting initiative and we are thrilled to work together with the newly formed Black Alumni Advisory Council to engage alumni in the life of the University as we build and grow a strong network and support student success,” adds Jeanne Marano, assistant vice president of Annual Giving and Alumni Engagement. “We are creating a group site in MONTCLAIRconnect where we can share information, post resources and activities, and foster connections between alumni and current students. Save the date – October 9 – for our Homecoming kickoff event.”
And while a typical alumni group might direct most of its efforts toward celebrating history, the Montclair State Black Alumni Advisory Council will have its eye on the future as well. “This is not just for alumni,” Coleman-Caldwell says. “We want to engage students, and to let them know that people who look like them succeeded at Montclair State, succeeded in their careers, and are now working to help lift the next generation. We will prepare them to carry the torch so that every new generation of Montclair State alumni is ready to support the next.”
Bowman agrees. “We want students to want to be part of our organization when they graduate. We want to build a foundation and connections that will endure.”
The Montclair State Black Alumni Advisory Council homecoming event is scheduled for Saturday, October 9, 2021. If you would like to be a part of this group, please complete this brief survey. You can learn more, and join the network, by visiting MONTCLAIRconnect.