St. John’s vast alumni network is more than 190,000 members strong. Within this proud group are several association affinity groups that focus on joining together to foster career advancement, networking opportunities, and philanthropic efforts. Among the most prominent is the Black Alumni Association (BAA).
Founded in 1989 by Phyllis C. Bell ’75C, ’79G, BAA is now more than 100 members strong and continuously pursues and promotes social empowerment for members of the St. John’s alumni community. The association offers a wide range of educational, professional, and social events and activities throughout the year, in both formal and informal settings.
At the heart of many BAA endeavors is the Vincentian mission. For example, last April, during the height of the pandemic, the association hosted the BAA Virtual Brunch for a Cause. The event raised more than $1,000 to purchase food for international students who were unable to return home during the early stages of the pandemic, as well as breakfast for frontline health-care workers at Queens Hospital Center.
“With all that is going on in the world, and particularly in the St. John’s community, we wanted to do something to give back,” said Melissa Akers-Atkins ’04Ed, ’06GEd, a member of the BAA Board. “By encouraging our BAA members to stay home and take part in a virtual fundraiser, it gave us an opportunity to pay it forward.”
According to Ms. Akers-Atkins, who has been a BAA member since 2015, the association participates in a variety of service events throughout the year, including University Service Day, Giving Tuesday, and the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer awareness walk, and are regular volunteers at St. John’s Bread & Life and other organizations.
BAA also sponsors a wide range of social events, including virtual trivia nights, anniversary dinners, and mental health workshops. In addition, the group organized a trip to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, DC, with student members of Haraya and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc.
In 2002, the Phyllis C. Bell—Black Alumni Association Scholarship Fund was established in honor of the association’s founder. Last year, more than $4,000 was raised for the fund, which provides a partial scholarship each year to deserving students. A secondary scholarship that covers the cost of textbooks is also in the works.
Ms. Akers explained that while philanthropy is a crucial part of BAA, comradery is also a key component. “We normally look forward to seeing each other at our annual Black History Month programs, Haraya’s Black and White Ball, Grand Alumni Homecoming Weekend, and more,” she said. “With the pandemic, we have been able to connect with members online, but we still miss the in-person events. Above all, we love to meet up and hang out with our fellow Johnnies.”
“For over 30 years the Black Alumni Association has been a big part of the St. John’s family, giving back through their generosity, mentorship, and service,” said Mark Andrews, Director of Alumni Relations. “It is truly an honor to work with them and the Leadership team to continue to advance St. John’s mission.”