College’s Pan African Alliance organizes culturally-specific event to highlight the achievements of SMC’s 405 Black graduates

A joyous event held on Friday, June 9, emphasized the persistence and achievement of the 405 Black students who are graduating this year from Santa Monica College (SMC).

Dancers at SMC’s Annual Black Student Graduation Ceremony. (Courtesy photo)

The event, held at John Adams Middle School (JAMS) auditorium in Santa Monica, was organized by the SMC Pan African Alliance. A dinner reception for graduates and their families/guests followed the graduation ceremony.

The culturally-specific ceremony featured, among other highlights, a performance of the Black national anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by SMC English professor Clay Barham, pouring of libation by Sherri Bradford and Cameron Terry, an address by student speaker Jasmine Christmas, and a keynote address by SMC psychology department chair, scholar and educator Dr. Chanté DeLoach.

SMC Superintendent/President Dr. Kathryn E. Jeffery also had a message for the graduates: “You are shining stars and all of us at SMC celebrate and congratulate you.”

Jeyde and Taylor Mitchell, husband and wife, graduated together. (Courtesy photo)

“Knowing where these students come from, knowing what they’ve had to go through . . . to be able to complete their studies and be celebrated this way with our first African-American ceremony is just a joy,” said SMC Board of Trustees Chair Barry Snell. “I feel warm all over, and I’m just excited for what we’re bringing out of Santa Monica College!”

The SMC Pan African Alliance leadership — Communication and Media Studies professor Dr. Jermaine Junius, president; math professor Kristin Ross, vice president; and Black Collegians Student Services Specialist Jocelyn Winn, secretary/treasurer — had a special message for the graduates, printed in the program.

From left are Barry Snell, Dr. Kathryn E. Jeffery, Dr. Chanté DeLoach, Sherri Bradford, and Jermaine Junius. (Courtesy photo)

The message read: “We see your beauty and brilliance and understand the unique value that you bring to the college and the world,” they wrote.

“So, as you go out into the world and continue to pursue your educational endeavors, keep striving. As the inaugural class of SMC’s 1st Annual Black Student Graduation Ceremony, you are already ambassadors of change.”

SMC Black Collegians Umoja Community faculty leader and longtime counselor Sherri Bradford stated that “it [was] so amazing to be able to be in a space where we are able to honor our Black students . . . how powerful it is to have everybody in the space to honor [them]!”

SMC graduate Cree Kawa celebrates at the ceremony. (Courtesy photo)

Among the graduates were a couple: Taylor Kennedy Dannon Gary Mitchell and her husband Jeyde Mitchell. By sheer chance, they are also transferring to the same university: Cal State Los Angeles.

Taylor is graduating with an Associate’s Degree for Transfer in Business Administration and Jeyde is graduating with an Associate’s in Studio Arts. Taylor is “beyond thrilled . . . blessed . . . elated!” about all of this.
How did they make this happen? “Hard work,” Taylor said, “and we were both on the same page about wanting to be successful in life. Graduating college was really important to us because we are [both] first generation graduates in each of our families.”

Graduates were excited to receive their degrees. (Courtesy photo)

Jeyde added that college was difficult, but “with a lot of organization [by] my wife, keeping me on track and having a set schedule and just understanding where we can fit certain aspects of school and knowing our limit,” they were able to balance college and life.

Keisha Hammond previously graduated from SMC with an Associate’s in Health & Behavioral Sciences. She came back to take some science classes needed in order to apply for a Master’s in Public Health and registered dietitian program, and in the process earned another Associate’s degree, with honors.

“It was beautiful to be surrounded by professors that look like us and students that have had the same struggles,” Hammond said. “I really want to give a special thank you to SMC’s Black Collegians program because they gave us a sense of community and belonging.”

Cree Kawa, who is graduating with an Associate’s degree in Liberal Arts says he chose Santa Monica College to “get away from the Valley.”

Kawa found the representation of Black culture, and the dancing specifically, “powerful.” He writes feature-length screenplays and hopes to focus on writing and acting and “see what can happen.”

Here are a few points highlighting the accomplishments of SMC’s 405 Black graduates:
• 574 degrees and certificates awarded to 405 students
• Two Bachelor of Science in Interaction Design degrees awarded
• 384 Associate degrees, including 108 Associate Degrees for Transfer and 181 Certificates of Achievement
• 169 students graduated with more than one degree or certificate

Student speaker Jasmine Christmas (Courtesy photo)

The Pan African Alliance (an employee-based affinity group), which sponsored the graduation ceremony, is a network of faculty, staff and administrators who seek to increase awareness of the diversity and richness of their culture and heritage as people of African descent at Santa Monica College.  The organization aims to create a nurturing environment where Black students and organization members feel a sense of belonging in all aspects of their experiences at the college.

The Pan African Alliance is committed to closing equity gaps in student success and completion rates by building strong student, staff and faculty networks.  By challenging systemic and racial bias, the Pan African Alliance seeks to dismantle the barriers that inhibit the academic successes of students and the professional successes of its members.

The Black Collegians Program/Umoja Community at SMC assists students of African descent in transferring to four-year universities and obtaining their Associate’s degree. The program offers services to help students become academically competitive and to set personal goals.

Umoja—a Kiswahili word meaning “unity”—is a community and critical resource dedicated to enhancing the cultural and educational experiences of African American and other students. Umoja actively serves and promotes student success for all students through a curriculum and pedagogy responsive to the legacy of the African and African American diasporas.

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