Spirituals and Salutes Mark First Official SMU Black History Month Celebration
Samuel Merritt University (SMU) celebrated Black History Month on February 26 with an event suffused with spiritual music by the Allen Temple Baptist Church Men’s Chorus and tributes to four members of the Board of Regents.
The program opened with 33 members of the Men’s Chorus, dressed in black suits and scarlet red ties, singing “The Negro National Anthem: Lift Every Voice and Sing” as they streamed down the aisles of the Fontaine Auditorium. The music was accompanied by a photographic slideshow featuring historic moments and figures in U.S. black history including Martin Luther King Jr., author Alice Walker, and Colin Powell, the first African American appointed as the U.S. Secretary of State.
SMU President Sharon Diaz reminded the audience that creating a more equitable world for our children requires us to honor those who have come before.
“We are here today to celebrate how far we’ve come and yet we acknowledge that we have a long way to go,” said President Diaz.
President Diaz introduced the new Dr. Cornelius Hopper Diversity Excellence Award, saying it is designed “to inspire people in our community to engage in activities that will make Samuel Merritt University a place where people of all colors will come and learn.”
The award is named for and honors Dr. Cornelius Hopper, who joined the SMU Board in 1997 and served as its chair from 2000 to 2011. President Diaz noted that Dr. Hopper has been dedicated to addressing racial disparities in the nation’s healthcare system since 1971, decades before the issue attracted widespread attention.
Dr. Hopper embodies “leadership in action,” President Diaz said, adding that the only endeavor the active volunteer has failed at is retirement.
In accepting the award, Hopper recalled a troubled past:
“There are those in this room today who can recall a time, not so very long ago, when highly qualified African American physicians could not gain acceptance to some private hospital medical staffs in the East Bay or San Francisco communities; a time when even the University of California had informal “quotas” on the number of African Americans that would be admitted; a time when whole communities and areas of housing were inaccessible to African Americans,” he said.
Black History Month is also an opportunity to look forward, according to Hopper, and he had high praise for SMU’s efforts to provide educational opportunities and build an inclusive community.
“Samuel Merritt is, quite simply speaking, a gem among California’s health professions educational institutions,” said Hopper.
Board members Owen Garrick, MD, Gary Morrison, JD, and Alvin McLean Jr., PhD, were also recognized for their contributions to SMU. Garrick called himself a “foot soldier” in the struggle for African American progress. Morrison recounted his work in the landmark court case known as Regents of the University of California v. Bakke and on Proposition 209, key moments in the history of affirmative action in California.
“In our struggle for equal opportunity in education, we still have a long way to go,” said Morrison.
McLean praised SMU faculty, staff members and students for their contributions to health fairs at Allen Temple.
Following several exuberant spiritual songs by the Men’s Chorus, President Diaz presented a bouquet of flowers to her executive assistant Margrette Peterson for organizing the event.