For Simmons’ Black Student Organization (BSO), February is teeming with excitement and activity. Throughout Black History Month, all students are welcome to express their solidarity with Simmons’ Black community over cupcakes, soul food, music, and dancing. We spoke with BSO’s Soul President Gia Elie (formerly LeBrun) ’24, Soul Vice President Sunei Clarke ’24, and Soul of Communications Bartianna (Bart) Brown ’24 about their passion for Black history and co-curating events that celebrate their culture.
“There is not a day I don’t wake up happy that I am Black, but during Black History Month I am the happiest,” says Public Health major Sunei Clarke ’24, who serves as Soul Vice President of the Black Student Organization (BSO) at Simmons. “There’s just something in the air at this time of year because it is a month for us. I look forward to learning a lot this Black History Month.”
For BSO’s Soul President Gia Elie ’24, a first-generation student and Public Relations and Marketing Communications major, the student-run organization “continues the legacy of supporting Black individuals within a predominantly white institution (PWI). In everyday life, doors are not always open for us, but BSO creates spaces for us on campus and beyond. We work to advance the culture of inclusion at Simmons, and everyone is welcome to attend our events and invite their friends.”
The organization maintains a strong social media presence, and posts all of their upcoming events on Instagram. (Black alumnae/i often connect with one another through BSO’s Facebook platform). During the academic year, BSO holds board meetings every other Thursday evening from 6 to 7 pm. Anyone interested in joining the organization may send an email to [email protected].
Black History Month, BSO-style
To kick things off for Black History Month 2024, BSO hosted a Cupcake Tabling event at Common Grounds on February 1. “This year Aramark catered the cupcakes, and people came to engage with us to discuss BSO and Black history at Simmons,” says Elie. “This opening event makes Simmons students aware of our organization’s mission and what we have going on during Black History Month.”
Soul Food Night marked the next major event, which took place on February 6 from 5 to 9 pm. BSO invited students to socialize and celebrate over fried chicken, mac and cheese, hush puppies, peach cobbler, and more in Bartol Hall.
BSO Communications Officer Bart Brown ’24, a double major in Public Health and Political Science on a pre-law track, helped resurrect Tea with Alumnae/i, a Simmons tradition that disappeared approximately a decade ago . As Brown explains, “I have an appreciation for Black history at Simmons and the University’s longstanding traditions. As I transition out of Simmons during my senior year, I hoped to host a few traditional events that lost their spark due to the times changing or the pandemic. I first heard about the tea party from former African American Alumnae/i Association’s President, Kenyora Lenair Parham ’10, and it gave me an idea for our Black History Month programming.”
This year, BSO will host the Tea on February 17 from noon to 2 pm at the Linda K. Paresky Conference Center (located on the third floor of the Main College Building). “This is an opportunity for alumnae/i and current students to get together for networking and bonding while maintaining a relaxed setting. . . Black alumnae/i will also be able to share their wisdom with our graduating seniors as they depart from Simmons in less than 100 days,” says Brown.
Brown, Elie, and Clarke are also planning “A Sparkling Affair” in April. “This is another historical BSO ritual,” explains Elie. “It is a formal ceremony that honors graduating seniors, during which we host a dinner, present a slideshow, and unveil The Little Black Book (also known as Our Little Black Book) — a yearbook of sorts for graduating seniors that memorializes their time at Simmons.”
This year, Brown is spearheading the design and production of The Little Black Book. “This book serves as a beautiful reminder of the individual stories of our Black seniors. We specifically focus on our undergraduate students, but welcome graduate students to send in their stories and pictures. This Simmons BSO tradition started in the 1970s and is a great way to look back on the many Black individuals who have shaped Simmons’ history in one way or another.”
Advocacy and Inclusion through the Generations
BSO’s reverence for tradition and commemoration underscores its rich, intergenerational history. The organization’s current Executive Board is astutely aware of the generations of agency and activism that their predecessors demonstrated. During the 1960s, Simmons witnessed an increase in Black students, and, in 1967, these students came together to form the BSO. As Elie recounts, “During the civil rights era, BSO promoted Black interests and racial solidarity on campus and within the greater Boston metropolitan area, which was very impactful for us.”
In 1969, BSO members generated the legendary “Ten Demands.” In their published statement, BSO argued that they had faced “many of the same apathetic, paternalistic, and racist attitudes with which Black students on white campuses all over the country are forced to deal in [their] struggle to make [their] educational experience more meaningful.” The Demands called for increased recruitment of Black students, staff, and faculty, the creation of an African Studies program, more financial aid, and more robust initiatives to support Black students at Simmons. This collective act of advocacy changed the culture at Simmons, effectively creating a more inclusive environment for racial minorities.
In 2015, BSO members launched another iteration of the Ten Demands. As Elie explains, “Before 2015, there was not a space at Simmons to be authentically Black. Students felt like they always had to maintain a certain demeanor in order to be accepted. As a direct result of these Demands, we got the Multicultural Center (MCC).”
Elie has served as a mentor for the MCC’s Bridge Program Pilot, in which she eases incoming BIPOC students’ transition into a historically white university. “Being a Bridge Program mentor was a great experience,” she reflects. “I am glad to be a resource for underclassmen who are having their first college experience. We are different people who come from different diasporas and cultures, but we have a common denominator, and together can celebrate being BIPOC students at Simmons.”
Bonding on the Dance Floor
Elie’s commitment to community-building and allyship at Simmons resonates with the celebration of Black History Month at Simmons. At any BSO event, there will be lively music and an invitation to dance. Likewise, dance studies scholarship demonstrates that engaging in communal, rhythmic movement is especially meaningful to African and diasporic cultures. “I don’t know how to explain it, but if my friends and I hear a good beat, we have to start dancing. In the Black community, we love a good dance. It strengthens our bond with one another and helps connect us to our ancestors.”
Clarke also loves experiencing music and dancing with her friends from BSO. “I find myself on the dance floor quite often during our events, and I think music is one of the best parts of being Black. . . I feel the most racial pride during Black History Month, as there is always a party, gala, or something else going on that makes us joyful. It is so gratifying to see people celebrating us and what makes us beautiful.”