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"From Black Talent to OTE"

Donald Brown arrived at Boston College in September 1978 as director of the Office of Minority Student Programs and a year later became director of the newly named Office of AHANA Student Programs, a position he held until 2005. He is currently dean of the San Bernardino campus of Community Christian College in San Bernardino, California, and executive director of that college’s Gateway to Success program. Brown delivered the following remarks to Reconnect attendees in Robsham Theater on the afternoon of Saturday, July 18.

Dear Brothers and Sisters:
Good afternoon. What a tremendous joy and honor to see all of you again. I knew that this day would come; I just didn’t think that it would happen in my lifetime. Early in life, I was taught to give honor where it is due, and so I want to begin by extending gratitude to all of the committee members who labored incessantly to make this weekend possible. I also want to express gratitude to former President Rev. J.Donald Monan; former Executive Vice President, Dr. Frank B. Campanella; the late former Academic Vice President, Rev. Charles Donovan; and the former Vice Presidents of Student Affairs, Kevin Duffy and Cheryl Presley. Without their strong commitment, there would not have been an Office of AHANA Student Programs or, by extension, the Options Through Education-Transitional Summer Program. I would be sorely remiss if I did not thank current President Fr. Leahy; Executive Vice President Pat Keating; Provost Bert Garza; Vice President for Human Resources Leo Sullivan; and Rev. James A. Woods, Dean of the Woods College of Advancing Studies. Their ongoing support and commitment to the Office of AHANA Student Programs and to the AHANA community cannot go unrecognized or unappreciated.

I assumed the position of director of the Office of Minority Student Programs on September 1, 1978. I succeeded Monroe “Bud” Mosley, who was the first director, and Mrs. Sandra Crump, who served briefly as interim director prior to my arrival. While it wasn’t stated in exact terms, the charge given to me was to increase the graduation rate among black and Latino students at Boston College, which at the time was 17 percent. This meant that of all of the students who entered the college in the first year, 83 percent would not persist until graduation.

I wondered how I would accomplish this feat given a staff consisting of a director; an assistant director, Rosa Menard; a secretary, Adelaide Akunor; and, as I recall, 10 student workers. Not only was staff size a concern, but also I was given to understand, by Valerie Lewis ‘79 and other students, that as long as the pejorative word “minority” was used in the title of the office, students of color would not come into the office; they would go in the opposite direction. This obviously posed a problem for me, given my charge to increase retention and graduation rates.

Around this time, I had the first in a series of brainstorms. I decided that while the doors of the Office of Minority Student Programs would be open to all students of color at BC, the target group would be students who had high levels of motivation and potential, but who scored at least 400 points below typical Boston College students on the SAT. As a consequence, they were invited to attend a summer orientation program prior to entering the University. This line of thinking led me to do several things: First, I decided to give what was previously called the Summer Orientation Program a different name. Because education provides one with options, and because a summer program should assist students in making a smooth transition from high school to college, I chose to call the program the Options Through Education-Transitional Summer Program (OTE).

The second thing I did was meet with academic vice president, Fr. Charles Donovan to request credit for five courses that I wanted to be taught in the OTE Program. Previously, students had not received credit for courses offered in the Summer Orientation Program. Fr. Donovan approved my request on the spot. I didn’t know at that time that this was an unprecedented move, as decisions like this needed to go before educational policy committees in the various colleges. And so in June 1979, the first of 30 cohorts of OTE students began their journey at Boston College. Several members of the first OTE class are in the room today. I would appreciate it if they would stand!

As I worked on developing a strategy for the Office of AHANA Students Programs, a movement was taking shape on campus. In the spring of 1979, I was approached on separate occasions by Valerie Lewis, a senior, and Alfred Feliciano, a junior, who introduced me to the notion that regardless of how one slices it, the word minority means “less than.” Alfred and Valerie invited me to attend meetings at the Black Studies Library, where a host of students got on board with the idea that the term minority needed to be replaced at every administrative level in the University with the term AHANA, which is an acronym for African American, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American. At these meetings, it was decided that a presentation needed to be made to the University’s Board of Trustees requesting, among other things, a change in the name of the Office of Minority Student Programs to AHANA Student Programs.

In May 1979, Valerie Lewis graduated from the School of Nursing, whereupon I had the high honor of presenting her with the David J. Silvia Award for her leadership in creating, along with Alfred and other student leaders, the AHANA concept. During the summer of 1979, and continuing into the first few weeks of fall, Alfred Feliciano organized a brilliant campaign to promote the AHANA concept, which consisted of selling t-shirts, flying balloons, and, my favorite, roasting a pig on the Dustbowl. The campaign was well received by everyone on campus. On Friday, September 27, Alfred Feliciano made a wonderful presentation to the Student Life Committee of the Board of Trustees that resulted in the immediate adoption of the term AHANA. Because I was not a Trustee, I was not in the room when the discussion of the AHANA concept took place. I am very happy, however, that my friend and Trustee at the time, attorney Wayne Budd, was present and strongly advocated for the adoption of the AHANA acronym.

The change in terminology had tremendous implications for the Office of AHANA Student Programs. The first thing it did was instill a sense pride in AHANA students on campus. As a result of this pride, students began to visit the Office of AHANA Student Programs more frequently, and they became increasingly more involved in their education and in campus life. All of these factors, as retention literature points out, contribute mightily to student satisfaction and retention.

I would like to share a few reflections of what I believe have been significant milestones for the Office of AHANA Student Programs and the OTE Program during my years at the University.

The first milestone was receiving word that the term AHANA had been issued a trademark through the U.S. Department of Commerce; which meant anyone desiring to use the term needed to get permission from the Office of AHANA Student Programs.

A second milestone was the one that I alluded to at the outset—reversing a low graduation rate, especially among black and Latino students from a low of 17 percent in the early seventies to a high of 84 percent in 2004. The latter was just three points lower than the University as a whole at 87 percent. In a similar vein, the four-year retention rate for OTE students, at 95 percent, at the time that I left the University in 2005 was among the highest in the nation.

Another milestone was the election of James Destin ‘83, a member of the first OTE class, to the presidency of the Black Student Forum. James set the tone for future OTE students to become leaders, not only of AHANA clubs and organizations, but BC clubs and organizations in general.

In connection with this point, another significant milestone was the election of William Dorcena ‘95, a black male, and Cecelia Gutierrez ‘95, a Latina female—both OTE students—to the presidency and executive vice presidency, respectively, of the Undergraduate Government of Boston College. As far as I know, this type of tag team had never been assembled anywhere in the country. If I might add, their election came as a direct result of AHANA students coalescing as well as gaining the support of progressive white students on campus.

During my 27-year tenure as director, the Office of AHANA Students received acknowledgements and awards from sources such as the Boston Globe, the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Educational Testing Service, and the Noel Levitz-National Center for Student Retention, among others, for developing a comprehensive array of support services for AHANA students. This included, but was not limited to, academic advisement, tutoring, performance monitoring, and mentoring. No accolade, however, has been more important to me than to seeing so many OTE and, indeed, all AHANA students graduate from the University.

I would be remiss if I did not mention just a few of the graduates of the OTE Program. Juan Arteaga ’99, graduated summa cum laude from the University; he was inducted into the Order of the Cross and Crown, the honor society of the College of Arts & Sciences; he was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa; and he attended and graduated from Columbia Law School. Marta Villacorta ’03, JD’07, was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship. Dr. Anthony Benjamin ’85, fulfilled his lifelong dream of becoming a doctor of medicine with a specialty in urology. Dr. Benjamin returned to Boston College at a time when I was experiencing severe pain from a kidney stone. The advice that Tony gave me was invaluable.

I don’t want to forget Dr. Catherine John ‘88, who, I believe, was the first OTE student to earn a Ph.D. and later became a candidate for the directorship of Boston College’s Black Studies Program. Dr. Silvia Dominguez ’83, MSW ’85, is a professor of social anthropology at Northeastern University. Tsedal Beyene ‘91, at 15 years old, was the youngest of all of the OTE students. She would go on to earn an MBA at Harvard University and a Ph.D. at Stanford University. Tsedal is currently on the faculty at Harvard. I don’t want to forget two of our most recent graduates. Brigitte Mercedes ’97, MA ’98, earned a doctorate in counseling psychology from Columbia University, and Rossanna Contreras-Godfrey ’91, Ph.D. ’09, earned her doctorate from the University’s Lynch School of Education.

Dana Barros ’89 was the first OTE student to be drafted to the NBA. Similarly, Ken Bell ‘86, Ron Stone ‘93, and Stalin Colinet ‘96 were among the first, in a long line of OTE students drafted by the NFL. Dominique Verdieu ‘91, one of the quietest students in her OTE class, has served as an anchor at several television stations across the country. I shall always remember three OTE students—Glenda Green ‘90, Antonia Soares ’91, JD’94, and Silvestre Fontes ‘89—who shared with me during OTE that they intended to become lawyers. All of them realized their dreams and have done yeoman’s work in the legal arena. The Reverend Joshua T. Kennedy ‘96 has established JTK Ministries and is saving souls across the nation. Reverend Dr. Evan Hines ‘90 serves as the senior pastor of the Elliot Church of Roxbury, Massachusetts, which is one of the largest and most historic churches in the city. Lastly, for her efforts at producing a wonderful documentary on cafeteria workers, Adrienne Leslie ’08 was presented with the Baldwin Award for Excellence in Filmmaking, and she was proclaimed a “genius” by BC’s student newspaper, the Heights, for the sensitivity she displayed in making the documentary. I am especially proud of Adrienne as I began working with her when she was 12 years old through my Saturday enrichment program called Christian Soldiers, Inc.

During my years as director of the Office of AHANA Student Program, I stressed the importance of persistence. I used to share with students a proverb that I like. It is this: “The race goes neither to the swift nor the strong, but to those who endure to the end.” This was the case with virtually all of the OTE Students that I worked with over the years.

No one typified this more than someone whom I have come to view as the greatest of all of the OTE Students. Hazeline Shropshire-Stanton ‘85, a mother of three children, traveled two and a half hours each way daily on public transportation in order to attend classes in the OTE Program. Her commute continued throughout her four years at the University. During the academic year Hazeline took advantage of the many resources of the Office of AHANA Student Programs, including attending summer school. She graduated from the University on time and since that day for more than 20 years has been employed by the Commonwealth’s Superior Court as an information technology specialist. Persistence paid off for Hazeline as it has for all of you!

In closing, I want to do one last thing: it is to ask everyone who worked with me in the Office of AHANA Student Programs to stand. I would like you, the audience, to join me in thanking them for what they have done. Each of you contributed mightily in helping students entrusted to our care to succeed at Boston College. I salute and thank each of you for allowing me to join you in your important work!