Guest Column: Forty years later, cultural house thriving

When looking back on the 40 years of the Bruce D. Nesbitt African-American Cultural Center (BNAACC) there are many key figures that represent the hard work and dedication that has gone into making this center what it is today. Val Gray Ward, Tony Zamora, Robert Ray, Bruce D. Nesbitt and Nathaniel Banks are just a few of these key players that have each played a role in our ability to celebrate the 40th Anniversary.

Although the roles of the former directors that I listed above were paramount, each director received the support and guidance of other community leaders including Dr. Lucius Barker, Dan Perrino, Dr. James Anderson, David Addison, Esq., Joseph Smith, Clarence Shelley and many more who used their profession, education and tenure at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign so that we could all enjoy the opportunity to be exposed to black culture at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.

These people, who were all in attendance over this past weekend, and many others that were not able to join us, taught us that while this weekend was a time to celebrate, there is still much work to be done.

The creation of the Nesbitt Center has had a great impact on student life and diversity on this campus. The Center provides a constant reminder of those who fought for equality here at Illinois. These words of our banquet speaker, Dr. Lucius Barker, concerning the center’s purpose has always been clear, “It is not a place to segregate, but a place to congregate.” Barker is a former assistant to the vice chancellor for student affairs and it is my hope that his sentiments concerning the center shall continue to ring loudly on our campus. This weekend served as a reminder that there have been black students living on the University of Illinois campus since the late 1800s.

The commitment made by the staff of the BNAACC as we continue our programming for the remainder of the year is to begin to serve as the vehicle through which those of the past, present and future can tell their stories. Our goal is to assure that no other African American student or alumni who is willing to participate goes without having a space to talk about their experiences here at Illinois. Each of our student experiences is vital to preserving the true history of black life on campus.

The 40th Anniversary Celebration was the first of many opportunities for students on this campus to be exposed to those we consider our legends.

I hope that in being exposed to the legends, our current students will find a multitude of reasons to continue these strong legacies with involvement with the center and the campus community at large.

Nameka R. Bates,

acting director for the African American Cultural Center