Harambee Homecoming

Harambee Homecoming

Karen Williamson ’69, one of the Ethos founders, with a photo of herself from her college years.

Photo by Ilyssa Greene Frey

Karen Williamson ’69, one of the Ethos founders, with a photo of herself from her college years.

Photo by Ilyssa Greene Frey

There was an early-spring chill in the air as attendees gathered to mark the 45th anniversary of the founding of Harambee House on April 9. But indoors, all was warmth and celebration as some 200 alumnae, students, faculty, and staff came together for a weekend’s worth of events, beginning with a welcome luncheon.

Among the attendees were original members of Ethos, the organization for students of African descent established at Wellesley in 1968. It was Ethos that worked with the administration when the alumnae of Alpha Kappa Chi, the Wellesley classical society, decided to return their house to the College. The building was transformed into a center called Harambee, which is Swahili for “working together.” Harambee House opened officially in September 1970 and has been providing a home away from home for students of African descent ever since.

Nancy Gist ’69, an Ethos founder, said, “We are here because we care about Wellesley faculty and students. There is so much going on that we could only have dreamt of in 1969. But I like to think it happened because we were here.”

That afternoon, a panel with Associate Professor of American Studies Michael Jeffries, Assistant Professor of Mathematics Oscar Fernandez, Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Joy St. John, and Assistant Professor of Art Nikki Greene discussed Wellesley today. Next, four alumnae—Janet McDonald Hill ’69, Malika Jeffries-El ’96, Nicci Page ’01, and Ruth Wang’ondu ’07—spoke of their paths from Wellesley to their present lives as leaders in their fields.

After an alumnae reception at Harambee House, everyone gathered for the formal Ethos Black Excellence Gala, an annual event. There, Marseille “Mars” Allen ’01, who organized efforts to aid her fellow Flint, Mich., citizens during the ongoing water crisis, received the 2016 Black Excellence Award. (For more on Allen, see page 67.) On Sunday, after a networking breakfast, Renita Weems ’76, a renowned theologian and ordained minister, sent attendees on their way with an inspirational speech.

For the Wellesley alumnae on campus that weekend, the visit was a homecoming. And that sense of home is alive and well on campus all these years later. As Layla Anderson-Washington ’18, a psychology major from Atlanta, puts it, “I don’t think I could be at Wellesley without Harambee House. It is a source of inspiration. It is community. It is family.”

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