Black Alumni Reach Out
By Cynthia Lee
Published Apr 1, 2007 8:00 AM
The sublime jazz that sent a diverse Royce Hall audience into ethereal bliss in early December was Kenny Burrell's gift to seasoned jazz lovers who came in droves to attend his 75th birthday concert, courtesy of UCLA Live. Up in the balcony were younger listeners, hundreds of African-American students, middle- to high-school age, who had come for a different reason — to get acquainted with UCLA. Hearing the legendary jazz guitarist who heads UCLA's jazz studies program and his many talented musician friends reinforced their feelings that something about this campus was special.
Copyright ©Illustration by Paul Rogers
Bused and flown from around California to UCLA for the day, they — along with many parents — were the invited guests of two private organizations, the Friends of Jazz at UCLA and the UCLA Black Alumni Association (UBAA). The group toured the campus; listened to UCLA ethnomusicology students perform; and heard from faculty, administrators, students and alumni with one clear message: "We needed to bring them here to tell them, 'We want you here,' " said Rickey Ivie '73, J.D. '77, chair of the UBAA board. And it was worth it, if many of these African-American students felt as Mechelle Monroe, a junior from Diamond Bar High School, did. "I like the fact that they are doing something special for African Americans to try to get them to come and be part of this school," Monroe said. "To me, it gives UCLA an advantage over all the other schools."
Black and Bruin
Find out more about the many activities, events and good works of the UCLA Black Alumni Association. Connect with African-American Bruins — alumni, students and staff. Learn about career opportunities, scholarships, social and business networking, community activism, and much more. For more information, log on to www.uclablackalumni.org
When news broke last June that the number of African-American freshmen planning to enter UCLA in fall 2006 had fallen to the lowest number since 1973, black alumni reacted with consternation and dismay. "It hurt us so badly," said Marilynn Huff '93, a vice president in UBAA. Ivie agreed: "To see this take such a radically backward turn was disheartening and frightening at the same time."
The news galvanized African-American Bruins and other community leaders to look for solutions. Representatives of groups like UBAA and the Los Angeles Urban League are now part of the UCLA African American Alumni and Community Support Task Force, which is advising the administration and the Academic Senate of their concerns and perspectives on admissions.
Reaching students through the arts is just one way to strengthen the connection between blacks and the campus, said Winston Doby '63, M.A. '72, Ed.D. '74, retired University of California vice president for educational outreach and a former UCLA top administrator in student affairs. He now volunteers his energy and time to the cause of black admissions through the Friends of Jazz and other efforts. "The whole idea is to give them a sense of community, a feeling that UCLA has a rich sense of excellence and a very real connection with the African-American community that goes back decades."
African-American alumni have staged an aggressive campaign mixing on-campus events like the Burrell concert with off-campus outreach. UBAA has identified about 300 potential Bruins, African-American high school and middle school students around the state, with whom they are building connections to UCLA. And now that applicants have been informed they have been admitted to the freshman class of 2007–'08, the campaign by volunteers to convince African-American students to choose UCLA begins in earnest. (For the 2007 academic year, 2,444 African-American freshmen applied to Westwood — about 5 percent of total applicants, up from 2,173 last year.)