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WATCH: Renovated African American Cultural and Resource Center Reveals UC’s Black History


The grand reopening celebration took place on Jan. 15, which marked the 84th birthday of Martin Luther King Jr.

Date: 1/17/2013 12:00:00 AM
By: Dawn Fuller
Phone: (513) 556-1823
Photos By: Dottie Stover

UC ingot  
A packed house of UC students, staff, administrators, alumni and community members formally celebrated the grand reopening of UC’s African American Cultural and Resource Center (AACRC) on Jan. 15. The $325,000 renovations expand the AACRC to more than double its original capacity. The center had been closed for renovations since last August.

Revered alumna Marian Spencer (A&S ’42), University of Cincinnati President Santa J. Ono, and assistant AACRC director Ewaniki Moore-Hawkins (’02 and ’06, LCOB) performed the ribbon-cutting that formally kicked off the grand reopening ceremony. Eric Abercrumbie, director of the AACRC and Ethnic Programs and Services, performed the libation ceremony of pouring water on a plant to symbolize the past, present and future.

“We know we’re not here because of us, so this is why we’re going to start with libation,” said Abercrumbie. “Libation is a ceremony where we recognize our ancestors, those who’ve gone on before.”

“I’m so proud that the university has a place like this to come together,” said President Ono. “I will say to you today that I am absolutely committed to continuing this dream.”

“We should be proud of what we have accomplished here, but we should also recognize something,” said Robert E. Richardson Jr. (CEAS ’02, JD ’05), the youngest person to be appointed to the UC Board of Trustees. “Today is a celebration of a lot of things that came before you, and I want the students here – in particular, the student leaders here – to think about what it took to get here and to think about your legacy.”

The renovations include an addition of the Harambee Room (Harambee is Swahili for “Let’s Pull Together,”) featuring a wall of history which celebrates the black trailblazers who changed the history and the future of the university and beyond. One of those trailblazers, Dwight Tillery (A&S ’70), was among the featured speakers at the ceremony.

“Dr. King says the time to do right is always right, and this is the right thing to do. I’m excited to be a part of this history,” said Tillery.

Tillery was a UC student leader in the United Black Association (now called the United Black Student Association), the student group that first proposed the center in 1968. In 1990, a university-wide implementation committee of students, faculty, administrators, Board of Trustees members and community representatives developed recommendations for the center’s policies and programming, leading to the center’s opening in 1991.

Tillery told guests that he was a “pretty quiet person” when he started out as a freshman at UC in the ‘60s, but says he was so impacted by what he saw around the nation that he decided he would “get out of my seat and start becoming a student leader on campus.” Tillery also credits that UC experience with leading him to become the mayor of the City of Cincinnati in the early ‘90s.

Harambee Room
Harambee Room

Abercrumbie says the Harambee Room will continue to transform, as UC’s black trailblazers transform history on campus and beyond. Among the dozens of photos of trailblazers featured in the history is Tillery, as well as ceremony attendee Marian Spencer, who in 1983 became the first African-American woman elected to Cincinnati City Council and was the first female president of the Cincinnati chapter of the NAACP (1983-85). Also featured is ceremony guest Vera Derkson Williams, UC’s first black homecoming queen.

The wall includes athletes such as Olympic gold medal recipients Oscar Robertson and Mary Wineberg , Hamilton County Municipal Court Judge Tyrone Yates and Darwin Turner. In 1947 at age 16, Turner became UC’s youngest baccalaureate degree graduate when he earned his bachelor’s degree in English from UC. He earned his master’s degree in English from UC in 1949. Turner was later recognized as one of the greatest scholars in African-American literature.

Fred Hord, founder and executive director of the National Association for Black Culture Centers, says there are approximately 200 such centers nationwide at public and private institutions that have committed a budget, space, staff and programming to support students.

“Ironically, we often need to plead the case that these centers are still needed. Since Barack Obama was elected president, some administrators have perceived that there’s not a use for these centers anymore. Given this national perspective, we find today that more than anything else, efforts need to be made to increase not only the visibility of these centers, but to also demonstrate the clear ties between the center and student retention,” said Hord.

The AACRC leads programs to support student retention such as B.A.S.E. (Brothers and Sisters Excelling), a peer-mentoring and role-modeling program designed to aid in the personal, cultural and educational development and retention of black students. At the ceremony, Hawkins-Moore also mentioned that the occasion was the first time the AACRC ‘s first-year students in the Transitions program had stepped inside the center. The Transitions program uses a "Rites of Passage" curriculum to build a higher retention and graduation rate for African American students.

Renovations to the AACRC include new carpet, new furniture and some of the best audio and video capabilities at UC, according to Abercrumbie. Funding for renovations was supported by the UC Division of Administration and Finance and the University Diversity Council. In addition to UC’s black history, the renovated AACRC better showcases its artifacts that represent North, South, East and West Africa.

The grand reopening ceremonies included African drum and dance performances as well as a performance by the AACRC Choir, which has been featured around the country.

The AACRC’s 2013 Ms. and Mr. Kuamka – Mary Odafe and Abdine Lewis – served as emcees of the ceremony.

A Brief on the Services of AACRC (Provided by AACRC)

Student Advising – AACRC advises and provides a safe and affirming environment for students by listening, assisting, supporting and collaborating with the university community.

Advocating – AACRC has a serious commitment to intercede on behalf of the students and to speak for them in areas where they are not heard.

Developing Student Leadership – AACRC challenges students to enhance their educational experience through campus organization involvement and community service. The center believes that today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders who are in-tune with their communities.

Helping Students Excel – AACRC provides academic workshops to help foster academic growth.

Meeting Student Needs – AACRC helps students excel by addressing the academic, social, spiritual, personal and cultural needs of black students at the university. It is our goal to assist in building a positive, well-developed and balanced environment.

Promoting Access to Technology – With our changing society, the AACRC has accepted the challenge to increase our students’ knowledge of the technological world in which they live.

Serving the Community – AACRC has a commitment to connect campus, community and continent.

AACRC Website


Proudly Cincinnati: The Onyx and Ruby Society – The Onyx and Ruby Society is an avenue for African-American alumni to support diverse initiatives on campus such as the AACRC.