Photo: President Jonathan Koppell and Rocky with the BAAC founders (l to r): Doreen Tucker ‘83, Diane Gipson ‘80, Brenda Coleman-Caldwell ‘78, Donna Teel ‘80, Joanne Bowman ‘82, Antoinette Clay ‘80, Greg Collins ‘79, Randal Yorker ‘89.
Alumni and friends gathered October 28, 2022, for the first-ever Black Alumni Advisory Council (BAAC) Gala to reconnect with classmates, rediscover their alma mater and pay it forward to students. They honored former Associate Dean of Students and University Ombudsman James Harris ’68, ’70 MA, recognized BAAC Rising Star Medinah Muhammed ’16 and celebrated the legacy of Sam Mills ’81. Proceeds raised from the gala supported the Emergency, EOF and James Harris book funds.
The BAAC was launched in June 2021 to strengthen relationships with the Black community and promote social justice, equity and inclusion among alumni and students. BAAC President Joanne Bowman ’82 remarked on the progress of the Council, “I am grateful to lead the BAAC’s efforts as President and am proud of the good work we have done throughout the last 16 months.” The group’s inaugural gathering took place on campus during Homecoming 2021, followed by a panel discussion during Black History Month featuring the Jersey Four and a summer social event at McLoone’s Boathouse, all leading up to the excitement of Homecoming 2022 and the Gala Celebration.
University President Jonathan Koppell commended the Council on their achievements and highlighted the University’s commitment to diversity, student success and social justice. He noted the University’s recent merger with Bloomfield College, which preserved the only four-year college in New Jersey recognized as a Predominantly Black Institution (PBI), Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) and Minority Serving Institution (MSI). He also noted the University’s partnership with the city of Paterson to inspire the city’s youth to envision a future as students at Montclair State University.
Gala attendees enjoyed an evening of dinner and dancing, including a moving performance by the University’s Voices of Unity Choir, and a visit from Rocky, the University mascot, who posed for group photos throughout the evening.
The evening’s distinguished honorees were praised for their accomplishments. James Harris ’68, ’70 MA made a tremendous impact on many students who graduated from Montclair State University in both their personal and professional lives with 42 years of dedicated service as associate dean of students and university ombudsman. Harris was inducted into the Montclair State University Athletic Hall of Fame in 1998. He served as president of the African American Caucus, as a member of the President’s Commission on Affirmative Action, men’s varsity cross country coach, as well as faculty advisor for many student organizations.
As the BAAC rising star, Medinah Muhammed ’16, at only 23 years old, was tapped to serve as Chief of Staff for Assemblywoman Britnee N. Timberlake of the 34th legislative district. Prior to serving in this role, she worked for the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders, serving as a liaison between the media and members of the Board. She has also served as senior aide to Governor Phil Murphy in Legislative Affairs and currently works as director, Intergovernmental Affairs at New Jersey Economic Development Authority.
The group also celebrated the legacy of Sam Mills ’81. Among the best athletes the University has seen, Mills was an NCAA Division III standout from 1977-1980. He set school records with 501 career tackles. Montclair retired Mills’ No. 62 in 1981, inducted him into its Athletic Hall of Fame in 1992 and bestowed an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree upon Mills in May 1998. Mills was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2022. His legacy continues to inspire Montclair students, alumni and the entire community to courageously “keep pounding” to achieve one’s dreams.
Foundation Board Chair Greg Collins ’79, commented on the evening, “I am excited to be a part of this journey with the Black Alumni Advisory Council, and to witness the growth from our re-establishment in June 2021 to this fundraiser gala. I am looking forward to finding additional ways to advance the cause of the BAAC, and champion equity and inclusion for Black alumni and students at Montclair State University.”
Check out more photos from the event.
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