During a dedication ceremony on Friday, Oct. 27, that kicked off Black Alumni Reunion, more than 1,100 attendees were able to step directly from the Walk, a series of linked green spaces that intersect the Brown campus, through a new main entrance into a renovated and expanded Churchill House—home to the Department of Africana Studies and to Rites and Reason Theatre, established in 1970 as a direct result of the 1968 Black Student Walkout.
The renovations have also added a light-filled foyer and a three-story glass addition, indoor and outdoor spaces for interactive learning, and a ground-up, state-of-the-art overhaul of Rites and Reason. Seeing it spruced up meant a lot to Eldridge Gilbert ’05, a cochair of the reunion, who remembers hanging out there after track practice with fellow team member Daveed Diggs ’04. “It feels like the University is making an investment in the Black diaspora in a really tangible way.”
The dedication came during a weekend of lectures, receptions, and gatherings designed to collectively reimagine the future of the Black community at Brown. One panel was on “Building a Bridge Back to Brown,” an oral history project that collects, for the Hay archives, the stories, ephemera, and artifacts of Black alumni. The weekend’s events also featured retirement celebrations for Africana studies faculty Elmo Terry-Morgan and Paget Henry, and a commemoration of the third anniversary of the passing of beloved Professor Anani Dzidzienyo.
“The driving consideration, for me, was community,” says Noliwe Rooks, chair of Africana Studies, regarding the renovation. “How do we bring people into the building who otherwise don’t have a reason to come in? How can we give existing community members a way to find and connect with each other outside of private offices? How can we host events that communicate to people, ‘There’s something interesting here; you might want to stop by more often’?”