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Donald Brown Award Winner Rayana Grace

Rayana Grace (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

By Sean Smith | Chronicle Editor

Published: May 9, 2013

Rayana Grace ’13, a sociology major with a minor in African and African Diaspora Studies from New Bedford, was recently announced as this year’s recipient of the Dr. Donald Brown Award, which honors a senior for extraordinary contributions to Boston College, and particularly the AHANA community, in the areas of leadership, service, and academic development.

A Thea Bowman Scholar, Grace has been a member of the Cape Verdean Student Association and Voices of Imani gospel choir her four years at BC, and active in the Black Student Forum, AHANA Leadership Council, Dialogues on Race, Black History Month Planning Committee and the Ella Baker Freshman Mentorship Program, among others. Her activities outside BC have included co-organizing a retreat for black Catholic youth in New England and interning at Community Change Inc., an anti-racism non-profit in Boston. 

Last week, Grace — who plans to pursue graduate studies and a career in public policy — discussed her various experiences and activities at BC, and what she’ll remember most about the Heights.

What made you decide to go to Boston College?

It was honestly a really tough decision for me to come to BC. I was going back and forth between here and another university that had a great pre-med program, which was my concentration when applying to colleges. What drew me to BC was its well-roundedness of excellent academics, sports fan culture, and a range of majors with no particular emphasis on any one degree. Also, one of my older brothers came to Boston College and definitely encouraged me to attend.

What were your first impressions of BC as a freshman? How have these impressions changed during your four years?

When I first came to BC I was very intimidated. Like the rest of my peers, I was used to being at the top of my class. As a freshman in a 300-person chemistry lecture hall, I was overwhelmed and started doubting my own abilities to succeed in the classroom. Through the years I’ve realized that while people may seem like they have it all together and may know everything, they have the same questions I do. I am completely confident in all of my classes and I am willing to participate and ask for help whenever I need it.

You’ve been part of the Cape Verdean Student Association for your whole time at BC. Talk a little about your Cape Verdean heritage and what it means to you, and the role CVSA has played in your four years at BC.

While at the first BC home football game of the semester, one of the CVSA co-presidents approached me because she recognized me from a retreat we had both attended. She encouraged me to attend the first CVSA general meeting where I applied to be a freshman representative. I am many generations removed from my family in Cape Verde but I have always had a proud sense of Cape Verdean heritage instilled in me. I was excited to join a club of students that could help me to learn even more about the culture and language.

CVSA has definitely shaped my experience at BC. I gained mentors through the upperclassmen that helped guide me for my first two years. As the AHANA Caucus representative, I was introduced to many students whom I might not have met otherwise and was able to participate in different organizations’ events, such as the Southeast Asian Student Association and Philippine Society of Boston College culture shows. Serving as president and co-president, I developed leadership skills, time management, event planning, and how to interact with faculty and administration. CVSA was undoubtedly one of my favorite parts of being at BC.

You’ve also been involved in Voices of Imani. What impact has the group had on you?

When I came to BC, I had not sung in an organized group since middle school. I was nervous to try out for a singing group and the members of VOI at the Student Involvement Fair said to check out their practice because they welcomed everyone without audition. After the first practice, I never left.

Voices of Imani is such an amazing group with a sound unlike any other singing group at BC. It’s sad because a lot of people don’t know how great we are! But whenever a random friend attends one of our shows, they are completely amazed and come to more of our shows. Even if I had homework or a test to study for, I would make sure to make the time to go to Voices because the songs always lift my spirit and give me a positive feeling. We start and end each rehearsal with prayer and end with praise reports and prayer requests in which each member is able to share their good news or ask for our prayers. I think that that’s the most special part of the group and it really brings us closer together.

I love Voices and the experiences I’ve had with them, whether it was going on tour in Atlanta, fellowshipping at local churches or performing at the Arts Festival.

You’ve been doing a research project on the impact of gun and gang violence on Cape Verdean youth — talk about that experience.

I am a student in the Community Research Program, a class that allows students to pick a topic concerning a group of color and work on a research study that brings about policy implications. What interested me in the topic was just personal experience from living back home in New Bedford and seeing the impact that homicides were having on the friends and family members of those who were killed. There is not much research on Cape Verdeans or New Bedford and I think that this is an imperative issue that needs to be addressed with public policy. I will have a poster about my research displayed in the Sociology Department in McGuinn Hall.

Who have been some of the most important people for you at BC?

Three upperclasswomen that mentored me as a freshman were Patricia Baptiste, Titciana Barros, and Catherine Duarte. They definitely helped me navigate through my first years and lead by example for me to see what it meant to be a student leader at BC. As women of color, more specifically Cape Verde women, I looked up to them.

[Assistant Director of Student Programs] Karl Bell, [Assistant Dean of Students] Paulette Durrett, [AHANA Student Programs Director] Ines Maturana-Sendoya, [Sociology faculty member] Betsy Leondar-Wright, the entire African and African Diaspora Studies Department, and [African and African Diaspora Studies faculty member] Chauncey McGlathery have all been crucial to my formation as a student.

Also, Joao — our custodian in Stayer Hall — always gives me a daily Portuguese lesson and is always willing to help when I need him. And lastly, my roommates and best friends are who have made my BC experience what it is and what I will miss the most after graduation.