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Black Scholars United reflects on the past, looks to the future

Members of Black Scholars United (BSU), past, present and future, gathered at the Hurst Center on Oct.11 to reflect and celebrate the organization’s 50th anniversary.

The social and dinner included an audience rendition of “Lift Every Voice,” written by activist James Weldon Johnson in 1900, a song often referred to as the “Black National Anthem” according to NPR. A moment of silence was held for deceased members of BSU. Awards were presented afterward.

Dr. Forrest Crawford (past BSU member) and Byron Warfield-Graham being presented awards by current BSU members. Photo credit: Danya Gil

BSU was established during the civil rights movement in 1968. During this time, rioting occurred in over 100 cities after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., who advocated for peaceful and nonviolent protest. Additionally, citizens took to the streets to wage war in response to discriminatory housing practices and income disparity.

Byron Warfield-Graham, founding member of BSU and current benefactor, recalled the beginnings of the organization at WSU.

“We were in a college, at the time, that was very conservative. We needed to let them understand that the people in our BSU were not about violence,” said Warfield-Graham.

BSU, at its core, is a community aiming to unite black students through cultural understanding, community involvement, student engagement and leadership.

BSU is a part of programs with the NAACP, Ogden-area community action agencies, Project Success Coalition and local schools. The organization assists local students with, among other things, the inclusion of Black History Month programs — and other events on Martin Luther King Jr. — for schools that don’t typically participate, according to BSU adviser Betty Sawyer.

Sawyer said this is not an organization students are a part of and then forget once their university career is over.

As an example, Warfield-Graham established an essay contest in honor of the 50th anniversary of BSU and sponsored a scholarship at WSU. Sawyer wants current students to see Warfield-Graham’s contributions and follow in his footsteps.

“Mr. Byron Warfield-Graham has definitely been an example of what true stewardship is, a true alumni. Someone has put his money where his mouth his. He has not left us,” said Sawyer.

Betty Sawyer and Byron Warfield-Graham presenting Ryan Perkins with an award. Photo credit: Danya Gil

For the inaugural essay contest, students had the opportunity to submit an essay that addressed the prompt “Is Black Scholars United a valued and necessary organization at Weber State University today?” The top three essays received money awards funded by Warfield-Graham.

Sophomore Ryan Perkins wrote in her essay submission, “Without this bond, students, we become isolated islands of black excellence that may potentially sink without the necessary support and fuel to continue.”

Warfield-Graham teased the addition of a new fund for BSU, stressing the importance of helping each other.

“It’s very important that we reach out to those among us that we are able to help along the way. Because you never know, this might be the next great scientist. This might be the next great cardiac specialist,” Warfield-Graham said about the importance of giving back.

Sawyer said BSU’s largest impact comes from the organization being a home away from home for many WSU students. She said it’s a place black students could find others to connect with and gain a sense of belonging, pride, unity — a place where black students do not feel they have to be something they are not.

BSU distinguishes itself with their sense of community and family during dinners and awards ceremonies, according to some of those in attendance. With the WSU jazz ensemble in the background, current and former members talk and bounce from table to table, giving the feeling of a family cookout as opposed to a regular school dinner.

The dinner and social was a kickoff to celebrate BSU’s 50th Anniversary, with more events to come.

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