On Sept. 27, after months of planning, the long-awaited ribbon cutting for UCLA’s Black Bruin Resource Center was threatened by an uncharacteristic Westwood morning drizzle. Not to be denied this history-making moment, the leaders of the center and planners of the event did what they have always done — they persevered and found a solution. In this case, they moved the grand opening celebration of the new Black Bruin Resource Center from the Kerckhoff patio outdoors to perhaps a more fitting location: the Ackerman Grand Ballroom.
By noon, the football field–size ballroom was lined with tables representing dozens of campus organizations, like the RISE Center of UCLA, which promotes holistic wellness; UCLA Alumni Affairs; and NOMMO, UCLA Afrikan students’ newsmagazine since 1968.
Songs that encapsulated the spirit of the day blared from speakers in each corner of the ballroom. Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration” was followed by Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family.” A handful of attendees sported T-shirts emblazoned with uplifting slogans: “Black Women Matter,” “Black Girl Magic” and “Black Genius.”
“Seeing how many people showed up today to a two-hour program gives me so much excitement and hope for what the center is going to be like,” said Amanda Finzi-Smith, interim program director of the Black Bruin Resource Center, or BBRC. “I hope this is the trend: We’re happy, excited, we love each other, come into the center and hang out. That’s what I hope is going to happen the rest of the week. If this is just the first one, I can only imagine what the rest of the week’s events are going to be like.”
The center’s mission is to provide a space for Black students to find and create community by providing a fun social space and academic support, and fostering mental health and wellness. Through the years that students and campus administrators worked on bringing the center from a vision to its home in a 1,500-square-foot space in Kerckhoff Hall, everyone agreed that centering students’ voices was vital.
“The creation of this center has been a truly collaborative effort, and I am deeply grateful to all of the students and staff who worked so hard to turn the idea into a reality,” UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said. “The new Black Bruin Resource Center will provide helpful support services for our Black students and be an important community hub for all those seeking to understand and celebrate the Black and African diaspora in all its diversity.”
UCLA All Black Everything Week
The grand opening was the first activity to kick off UCLA’s All Black Everything Week. Other events include today’s Black Convocation, Thursday’s Black Power panel and a tailgate party at the Rose Bowl before Saturday’s UCLA football game against Arizona State.
Among the roughly 500 people at the opening: Monroe Gorden, vice chancellor of student affairs; Youlonda Copeland-Morgan, vice provost for enrollment management; Martin Jarmond, Alice and Nahum Family Director of Athletics; Tyrone Howard, director of the UCLA Black Male Institute and holder of the Pritzker Family Endowed Chair in Education to Strengthen Families; and Anna Spain Bradley, vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion.
Spain Bradley noted how the center becoming a reality stemmed from a commitment to Rising to the Challenge — a suite of initiatives launched by the chancellor in June 2020 in support of UCLA’s Black community.
“There’s no substitute for community-building. Having a physical location to initiate that in this way is an important new beginning for UCLA,” Spain Bradley said. “Inclusion is a journey, not a destination. It’s people coming together in communities — and the Black Bruin Resource Center represents one of our communities — that they identify with, in a space of their own and also engaging in outreach with other communities. For Black Bruins, having this central, local hub — where other groups can come and find out more, co-sponsor and think through problems together — is a really important step in that direction.”
Student-initiated and student-led
Students came out in full force to enjoy the day’s event.
“Our freshman year, we were virtual, and although there was support for us, it wasn’t as strong as I needed it to be,” said Belinda Davenport, a sophomore studying philosophy. “Knowing that there is a resource center, I’m glad we’ll be able to see other Black faces, and say ‘I’m feeling this way. What did you to do overcome this feeling?’”
Davenport said she appreciated the explicit focus on mental health and on community-building.
“I’m glad to be able to go to the center and meet new Black people and network and then be outside of campus and see them,” Davenport said, “and make sure we’re not isolated in our own bubbles, feeling the imposter syndrome.”
Adwoah Yeboah, a sophomore psychobiology major, minoring in brain and behavioral health, learned of the BBRC only a few months ago and is already looking forward to networking.
“Around here, it’s hard to find Black professionals in my field of psychology,” Yeboah said. “I want to meet new Black people and try to join the community.”
Words from the stage: ‘The Black Bruin Resource Center is a noble ideal.’
Near the afternoon’s end, a group of speakers including Finzi-Smith and past and present Black student leaders made their way to the stage. Former leaders of the Afrikan Student Union Alexandria Davis, Alex Dunkwu and Simone Walker joined current chair Samone Anderson, as well as the Black Graduate Student Association’s current and former presidents, Ashton Pemberton and Simone Walker, respectively, in delivering impassioned words reflecting on finally achieving the BBRC and the promise it holds for the future.
“Run your leg of the race as hard as you can, but then you have to pass that on,” said Davis, now a second-year doctoral student. “Play the long game. Don’t rush. The recipe for success is passion, planning, patience and persistence.”
Walker reflected on the moment she realized there was genuine momentum behind the movement to make the BBRC a reality: the 100-person protest she helped stage at a UCLA-USC basketball game.
Pemberton spoke about the center’s goals. “It’s a place where Black students can feel seen and heard and have an impact on campus they can be proud of. The BBRC will serve as facilitators of connection. We will team up with other powerful organizations.” He went on to name groups like the Black Law Students Association, UCLA Anderson Black Business Students Association and the UCLA Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies.
Anderson had a message for today’s Black Bruins.
“You belong here, you deserve to be here and you are more than capable of graduating. When you look at the BBRC, just remember nothing happens overnight, but it will never happen if you don’t fight for what you want,” said Anderson, who along with Pemberton did the honors of cutting the ribbon on the center.
“When you walk past this resource center, know that this is a reflection of the empowerment that we as Black Bruins possess. We look forward to working with Chancellor Block, Vice Chancellor Gorden and others to make sure that the Black resource center thrives. Ralph Bunche said, ‘Hearts are the strongest when they beat in response to noble ideals.’ The Black Bruin Resource Center is a noble ideal.”
The spirit of the historic day was summed up by one student walking out of the ballroom and speaking to a friend after lunch. “Happy Black people day!”