On Friday, May 10th, it was unusually cloudy across the city of Los Angeles. However, inside the Tabernacle at Faithful Central Bible Church in Inglewood, it was festive and bright, as ninety-three stars from across the United States were acknowledged during Loyola Marymount University’s annual Kente Graduation Celebration.
Founded by Dr. Cheryl Grills, Professor of Psychology, in 1991, Kente Graduation is a Rite of Passage within LMU’s Black Community that celebrates the personal and academic achievements of students (graduate and undergraduate) of African descent and marks their transition from college life to adulthood.
Grills, LMU’s first Black, female professor to be awarded tenure, shared that, “Our Kente Graduation is grounded in our cultural values, traditions, and priorities.
It is designed so that we define ourselves, acknowledge the past, celebrate our students’ accomplishments, and collectively – as a community – commit to the ongoing struggle for equity, our humanity, and the valuing of Black lives.”
While Kente Graduation is a long-standing tradition, each year, the celebration is reflective of the graduating class being celebrated-from the selection of specific Adinkra symbols, to the colors utilized, to the format of the actual ceremony, itself. Friday’s celebration began with an electrifying spoken word performance by graduating seniors, Kaelyn Sablan-Wilson, Harold Lloyd, and Makeen Yasar.
Said Yasar, “For me, Kente Graduation was my crowning moment at LMU. The ceremony was my rite of passage, the passing of the torch, and an affirmation of my experience in LMU’s Black Community. There was so much love, soul, and power in that space. It was – without a doubt – the highlight of my college career.”
Keynote speaker and distinguished LMU and Harvard Alumna, Nicole Powell, spoke about the importance of boldly stepping forward and taking advantage of the opportunities that accompany the attainment of a college degree, while also considering those, who have not been given the same opportunity.
Elaborating on Powell’s words of wisdom, Dr. Grills, stressed the importance of the ceremony and the values that have been imparted upon the graduates – but also the tremendous responsibilities that they must now embrace as they enter a world that truly needs them.
After the graduates had publicly accepted their responsibilities, an African name was bestowed upon each student, as well as a list containing readings from the canon of literature by Black authors, and various gifts. Next, Dr. Stefan Bradley, chair of the department of African American Studies, and Dr. Bryant Keith Alexander, Dean of the College of Communication and Fine Arts, placed ornate, colorful stoles around the shoulders of each graduate. Hand-made each year by a master Kente Weaver in Accra, Ghana and brought to Los Angeles, the stoles, themselves, are symbolic of each student’s uniqueness, but also their secure place within LMU’s Black Family.
Bradley later commented that, “The Kente ceremony is beautiful in the sense that it challenges our graduates to recognize that they are part of a legacy of Black excellence and calls on them to think in terms of the collective. It reminds them that what they have achieved is not for their individual aggrandizement, but for the greater good of the larger Black Community.”
Once students had received their stoles, various graduates, faculty and staff members were presented with awards. Winners included, Bradley Thomas (Kente Valedictorian), Dr. Barbara Lang (African American Studies), Darlene Wilson (Financial Aid), JaTaileasha Jones (Office of Admissions), and Elmo Johnson (Conference & Event Services) for their outstanding overall impact on the Black Community. Meanwhile, Dr. Marne Campbell (African American Studies) and Lisha Maddox (First Year Experience) won awards for Outstanding Faculty and Staff, respectively. Rounding-out the award winners were Graduating Seniors, Megan Castillo, Vandalena Mahoney, and Kaelyn Sabal-Wilson (Founders of #BlackAtLMU). Following the ceremony, Castillo commented on the day’s significance. “Kente Graduation is sacred; an intimate ceremony for friends and family, as well as LMU faculty, staff, and administrators to come together and celebrate the success of the Black Community. It was truly a special day; one I will never forget.”
Dr. Nathan Sessoms, Director of the campus’ Office of Black Student Services, served as the event’s emcee and added that, “Kente Graduation is the biggest and best day of the year within LMU’s Black Community! As Faculty, Staff, and Administrators, we’ve had the privilege of working with these brilliant, young people for up to four years, and we trust that this has been significant time of growth for each of them. We, now, return them to their families, home communities or, perhaps, new communities to do the outstanding work for which they’ve been sufficiently prepared. A wealth of new opportunities awaits them!