Black students at Harvard University are looking to hold their own graduation this season by hosting a commencement ceremony intended solely for African-American graduates.
The specialized event, set to take place on the morning of May 23, took nearly a year to plan and is “an effort to acknowledge the struggles and resilience that Black students have had to possess in order to thrive in higher education,” according to The Root. So far, more than 125 graduate students have signed up to participate in the formal ceremony, which will be held at Holmes Field, near the university’s law school in Cambridge, Mass.
Michael Huggins, a student graduating with a master’s in public policy from the Harvard Kennedy School, called the inaugural event an opportunity to celebrate Harvard’s African-American excellence and brilliance.
“It’s an event where we can see each other and our parents and family can see us as a collective, whole group. A community,” Huggins told the news site.
“[But] this is not about segregation,” the soon-to-be graduate added. “It’s about fellowship and building a community. This is a chance to reaffirm for each other that we enter the work world with a network of supporters standing with us. We are all partners.”
The Root reported that students raised over $27,000 to pay for the ceremony and reception. Although this year’s event will only focus on graduate students, organizers said they hope to open it up to undergraduates in the coming years.
“It speaks volumes that there has never been a Black graduation ceremony until now,” said Courtney Woods, who’s in the final leg of completing her master’s degree in education policy and management from the Graduate School of Education. “We created this from scratch — because for me, for many of us, we are not here alone. I carry with me the dreams and desires of my family. And as a first-generation, I know I am here to change the trajectory for all of us.”
Woods added that the graduation ceremony places a necessary spotlight on African-Americans who’ve established themselves as leaders in an environment where nonwhite students often feel isolated or alienated on campus.
“Harvard’s institutional foundation is in direct conflict with the needs of Black students,” Woods told The Root. “There is a legacy of slavery, epistemic racism and colonization at Harvard, which was an institution founded to train rising imperialist leaders. This is a history that we are reclaiming.”
Students participating in the specialized ceremony also still will participate in the main commencement ceremony.
Harvard University officials didn’t respond to requests for comment.