Oxford celebrates 30 years of MLK Scholars, 50 years of African American graduates


Celebrating 30-plus years of MLK Scholars

For some, 50 years may seem like a long time, and for others, 50 years is not nearly long enough.

This year, Oxford College is celebrating 50 years of African American graduates and 30-plus years of MLK Scholars in a special 30-50 Celebration.

30-50 celebration logo“It could have been earlier, nevertheless it’s still a milestone that we want to recognize,” says Oxford Chaplain Lyn Pace, who serves on the Oxford Celebrations Committee, a group formed to plan events and programs for the 30-50 Celebration. “This is an important marker, even though it’s not necessarily a long period of time. It’s important to know our history and know our path moving forward as a college.”

Campus Life Dean Joe Moon, who serves as a historian for the college, recently recognized that 1970 was the year that the first African American students graduated: Anthony Garfield Gibson, John Robert Hammonds, and Angela Yvonne Jinks. They first entered Oxford in 1968 under Dean Bond Fleming. “We have had four black students; their cooperation, their scholarship, and their leadership have been a blessing and an inspiration,” Fleming wrote in his annual report for 1969-1970.

During their time at Oxford, the students were on academic merit lists, members and leaders in various council groups and, for Gibson and Hammonds, part of the Air Force ROTC. Jinks also was president of the Women's Advisory Council.

The year to celebrate the graduates also is a good time to merge the celebration with recognizing more than 30 years of MLK Scholars, Pace says.

Given annually, the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship is a four-year, full tuition scholarship to Oxford College and Emory University. It is awarded to a student from Newton County based on financial need and merit through an application process. The student must maintain a 3.2 GPA to keep the scholarship.

“[Attending Oxford] wasn't something that I thought about doing at first, but once I got here, I fell in love with it,” says Chris Ejike, this year's Oxford Scholar, who is a graduate of Newton High School and the Newton County College and Academy. “I enjoy getting to know all of my classmates and working closely with my professors. I really like the community base.”

Ejike, who plans to major in nursing, admits he was skeptical about living close to his hometown, but now he enjoys being able to go see his mom whenever he wants to.

“She respects my privacy too,” he says.

Events for the 30-50 Celebration kicked off on January 21 with the college's annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration at historic Old Church. The speaker was alumna Sonya Tinsley-Hook 89Ox 91C, who was Oxford’s first MLK scholar. Tinsley-Hook is the founder of the All Our Strengths project, which teaches people how to be “strengths champions” in their schools, communities, and organizations.

Prior to the event in Old Church, a dinner in Phi Gamma Hall honored all the MLK Scholars and their families.

The centerpiece of the 30-50 Celebration is BlackOUT Alumni Reunion Weekend, which will be held February 21 to 23. It will feature a special brunch, a performance from Oxford student group Voices of Praise Gospel Choir and alumni speaker Gerald Griggs 98Ox 00C. “[The committee] wanted to organize some events that would highlight black alumni over the years,” Pace notes about the decision to feature Oxford graduates from various decades at various 30-50 Celebration events.

On display throughout the 30-50 Celebration is a special exhibit in the Oxford College Library, Framing Shadows, curated by Kimberly Wallace-Sanders, associate professor of American studies and African American studies in Emory University's Department of African American Studies. The exhibit is a prelude to her forthcoming book, Framing Shadows: African American Women and White Children in Domestic Portraiture. She also is author of the 2007 book Mammy: A Century of Race, Gender and Southern Memory.

The exhibit in the Fran Elizer Exhibit Space features portraits of nannies, or “mammies,” from 1840 to 1920 from the Robert Langmuir African American Photograph Collection, as well as texts and illustrations from Emory’s Rose Library's book and manuscript collections.

Other 30-50 Celebration events include a Jericho Brown Reading in the student center at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 25, Black History Movie Night in the student center at 6:30 p.m. March 5, an oral history booth at April 18's Oxford College Alumni Weekend, and a campus-wide book drive, which Madison Redd, a second-year student from Houston, Texas, is organizing to help local elementary school students.

Redd recently worked at Mainstay Academy, an alternative public school in Newton County near the college, to assist students with class and homework. She wants to present books to students at Mainstay as well as other Newton County schools.

“I hope to inspire a change in how we help our community and also encourage more students to read,” says Redd, who is currently studying educational studies, philosophy, and politics and law at Oxford.

A few of these 30-50 Celebration events coincide with February's Black History Month events, some of which are annual. Some events are new, and are due in part to Anthony Mize, who has served as Oxford’s director of diversity and inclusion since 2018.

2020 Events“There are a lot of great things going on at Oxford that focus not only on African American students but more minority groups,” Mize says, adding that diverse events help represent more of the Oxford community better and help all students prepare for a more global experience. “It's about diversity, inclusion, equality at Oxford, but also in the community and around the world.”

In addition to the BlackOUT Alumni Reunion Weekend, Black History Month events at Oxford kicked off February 3 with a National Pan-Hellenic Council Showcase. The month also includes programs such as free HIV testing and a Men's Etiquette and Tie Relay Race.

Oxford Celebrations Committee members: Susan Ashmore, Tammy Camfield 89Ox 91C, Tamika Vines Culbreath 98Ox 00C, Travis Culver, Pearl Dowe, Chris Ejike 21Ox, Molly McGehee 03G 07PhD, Anthony Mize, Lyn Pace 02T 17T and Madison Redd 20Ox.

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