Penn State Behrend’s Alumni Society recently opened a new chapter in the college’s Black history – an affiliate programming group, or APG, known as the Behrend Black Leadership Alumni Coalition, or BBLAC.
This summer, when college leadership identified a need to reach out to individual subsets of alumni, one of the first groups they wanted to reach out to was Behrend’s Black alumni. That community is one of the largest segments of the alumni population.
The initiative began as a conversation among college administration, faculty, staff and alumni to explore opportunities to celebrate diverse voices and viewpoints.
“Many members of the Behrend team were instrumental in bringing BBLAC to life,” said Kristen Comstock, assistant director of alumni relations. “We recognized Black alumni are an integral part of the Behrend Alumni Society. We sought input from alumni and the campus community to enhance our relationships with Black alumni.”
After months of collaboration, BBLAC was chartered to serve as a direct connection for Black alumni to share their unique perspectives and engage with current and potential Black students. Spearheaded by a group of Black Behrend alumni, the group is the first APG the Behrend Alumni Society has created in at least a dozen years.
“We believe that establishing a specific APG for Black Behrend alumni members will improve relations with an important Behrend constituency,” said BBLAC President Brandon McGraw, a 2009 accounting and finance graduate who is now the senior manager of accounting operations at The Knot Worldwide, Inc. “We further believe this group will help Behrend leadership guard against systematic biases and mitigate the challenges faced by Black Students as they pursue a Penn State degree.”
BBLAC has hit the ground running with a robust membership and a board of directors who already have formed several committees around the areas of campus engagement, professional development, coalition events, collegiate recruitment, fundraising and more.
A donation from alumna Tesha Nesbit, a 1993 communications graduate and director of diversity and inclusion for Erie Insurance Group, will help advance BBLAC’s mission.
“I want to do my part to ensure that Black Behrend students have the full scope of support they need to be inspired and successful in the classroom and in our communities,” Nesbit said. “If we can help them preserve this rich legacy of excellence that is a high-quality education, which has not been equally afforded to everyone, then they also become historians and models for generations to come.”
Comstock is excited about working with BBLAC to expand and enhance current Behrend Alumni Society events and initiatives.
“I’m looking forward to working with this wonderful and enthusiastic group of volunteers as we plan meaningful events for our Black alumni,” she said. “BBLAC leaders are engaged, and I’m really looking forward to the programs that connect our Black alumni to current and prospective Behrend students of color.“
While the pandemic currently presents challenges to hosting in-person events, BBLAC is developing virtual events, including a professional development offering for students. Members also are hand-writing notes to accepted Black students, encouraging them to attend Behrend.
“They’re also planning a Black Alumni Reunion event this fall for Behrend’s Parents, Families, and Alumni Weekend, which I can confidently say we all hope will be an in-person event this year,” Comstock said.
Mission of BBLAC
The mission of the Behrend Black Leadership Alumni Coalition (BBLAC) Affiliate Programming Group is to provide a direct connection for the college’s Black alumni to share their unique perspective as alumni.
BBLAC is positioned to: engage with current Black students to support educational opportunities; mentor current Black students as they make the transition to higher education; provide a conduit for Black alumni to advise Behrend leadership; assist in recruiting Black students; help develop greater financial support for Black students; facilitate allyship; and help improve the overall educational environment for students of color.
Leadership/Board of Directors
- President: Brandon McGraw, 2009
- Vice President: Adell Coleman, 2009
- Treasurer: Jeremy O'Mard, 2013
- Secretary: Angela Coston Jones, 1995
- Emerita: Conchita Dixon, 1997
- Conchita Dixon, 1997, fundraising
- Tesha Nesbit, 1993, professional development
- Shelley Askew Floyd, 1992, campus engagement
- Jeffrey Grant, 1990, membership
- Stanley Husband, 1990, collegiate recruitment
- K. Sasha Singh, 2009, coalition events