Star Power: Black Alumnae Conference.

Black Alumnae Conference.

By Keely Savoie

Prominent alumnae will convene to discuss their lives and careers, and the moments that defined their trajectories, at the Mount Holyoke College 2015 Black Alumnae Conference.

The series of events, focused on the theme “passages,” is slated for November 13–15. It will feature a screening of the documentary film Sembène!; an oral memoir by Brandy, moderated by playwright and author Debra Martin Chase ’77; a media panel including actress Michelle Hurst ’74; and a career panel to discuss career transitions—whether at the beginning, middle, or end of the professional path.

“We want to discuss transitions of where we were, where we are, and how we get to the next place,” said Jonencia Wood, senior director of programs at the Alumnae Association at Mount Holyoke College.

Lisa Tompkins ’82, who helped organize the conference, said the events are an opportunity to “bridge time,” bringing black alumnae together with current students to make connections and build community across generations.

“We are all committed to Mount Holyoke because it’s something that gets in our blood,” said Tompkins, whose daughter Kat Calvin ’05 will be a presenting on the career panel. “If you are a person of color, you are going to need to have a community to give you strength and know you are not alone.”

The conference will begin November 13 with a 4 pm screening of Sembène! in Gamble AuditoriumSembène! is a documentary by Mount Holyoke College Professor of FrenchSamba Gadjigo. The film, which was shown at both the Cannes and Sundance film festivals, is about the late Ousmane Sembène, who was the first African to make films in Africa about Africans.

“Sembène was a freedom fighter whose weapon was a camera. He gave silenced Africans back their voice,” Gadjigo said. “He used cinema to empower Africans and to spread humanity’s shared values of hope and freedom.”

Watch the Sembène! preview here:

Following the screening of Sembène!, actress Michelle Hurst ’74, who is best known for her role as Miss Claudette in Orange is the New Black, will give the keynote address at 8:30 pm on November 13 in Gamble Auditorium.

Panel discussions the next day will focus on race and transitions in careers, health, media, and social justice:

  • A career panel, at 9:30 am on November 14 in Gamble Auditorium, will be moderated by Rina Harris ’89. The panel will examine career paths—conventional and unconventional—and the resources available to Mount Holyoke students and alumnae to help in career building, from internships to retirement.
  • A media panel, at 10:45 am on November 14 at Gamble Auditorium, will be moderated by Lesley Tanai White ’96. It will include playwright and author Debra Martin Chase ’77, and actress Michelle Hurst ’74 of Orange is the New Black. The group will examine how media portrayals of black women can have the power to lead change in culture, leadership, and the world.
  • Lisa Milner Masterson ’87 of ABC’s The Doctors will deliver a keynote address, open to alumnae only, over lunch. It will take place from noon to 2:00 pm on November 14 at Willits-Hallowell in the Morrison Room.
  • A wellness panel, at 2:00 pm on November 14 at Gamble Auditorium, will be moderated by Amber Douglas, Mount Holyoke associate professor of psychology and education, and will include Masterson. The discussion will focus on transforming our understanding of—and demystifying—the black female body.
  • A #BlackLivesMatter panel, at 3:30 pm on November 14 in Gamble Auditorium, will be moderated by Elizabeth Pryor, Smith College assistant professor of history. It will include a screening of a documentary about the 1954 lawsuit against the Memphis Board of Education that started the desegregation movement in the United States. Panelists will discuss the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, tracing its path from Selma, Alabama, to Ferguson, Missouri. Speakers will include Deborah Northcross ’73, daughter of the original Memphis petitioner; Joel Motley, son of civil rights activist and lawyer Constance Baker Motley; and Patricia Banks, MHC associate professor of sociology.
  • The finale will be an oral memoir from recording artist and actress Brandy at 8:30 pm on November 14 in Chapin Auditorium. The event will be moderated by Debra Martin Chase ’77, and will be followed by a question-and-answer session. The conference will close with an ecumenical service at 9:00 am on November 15 at the Abbey Chapel.
Passages: An Oral Memoir featuring Brandy

This event is free and open to the Mount Holyoke and Five College communities.

8:30–10:00 pm, Chapin Auditorium
Moderated by Debra Martin Chase ’77

A recording artist and entertainer with more than forty million records sold worldwide, Brandy is also an actress, having appeared in television shows that include Moesha, Brandy: Special Delivery, Brandy & Ray J: A Family Business, and America’s Got Talent, and films such as Cinderella, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, and Afrodisiac. Her most recent accomplishments include a starring role in the popular BET series, The Game, and debuting on Broadway this summer as Roxy in the popular hit musical Chicago.

Tickets will be disseminated at the entrance of Chapin Auditorium until capacity is reached. Doors will open at 8:00 pm.