This month, Creighton University hosted the Black Alumni Gathering, bringing together more than 80 alumni from nine states and 30 graduation years for an evening at North Omaha’s Highlander Accelerator.
It was a chance both for old friends to catch up and for Black alumni to meet with Creighton President the Rev. Daniel S. Hendrickson, SJ, and Christopher M. Whitt, PhD, Vice Provost for Institutional Diversity and Inclusion. A number of the University’s Black faculty members came as well, to support the event and build connections with the alumni. The evening was scheduled around Native Omaha Days, a bi-annual event celebrating the culture and history of North Omaha.
Father Hendrickson spoke to the group about Creighton’s renewed commitment to raise levels of diversity among students, faculty, leadership and the rest of the workforce — a vision for progress that’s woven into the University’s strategic plan.
“This evening’s event is part of our newly invigorated efforts to engage in diversity and inclusion, and we want to hear from you — about what has gone well, about what has not and about how we can do things better,” Fr. Hendrickson said. “I’m here tonight to assure you of this: We are more committed than ever to making Creighton reflect the rich diversity of the world in which we live.”
A few scenes from the evening …
Fr. Hendrickson speaks with Lester L. Carter, Jr., BSPHA’58, an Omaha native and 2000 Alumni Merit Award winner for the School of Pharmacy and Health Professions.
Carter makes it back to as many Creighton events as he can, and he certainly wasn’t going to miss the Black Alumni Gathering. For most of the night, Carter set up shop at a table to sign and hand out copies of his book, “Healing the Human Body With God’s Remedies.” Carter, the evening’s self-designated “troublemaker and storyteller” was easily the event’s most popular guest. So many people wanted to talk to him that at one point a short line had formed.
Carter, who turns 88 this month, has lived a long and fascinating life — a life, he said, that won’t be slowing down anytime soon. He plans to work until he’s 100.
After serving in the Navy as a sickbay corpsman on the USS Tortuga during the Korean War, Carter came to Creighton to earn a degree in pharmacy. It was a tough transition and heavy course load, but he and a dozen other veterans in his class stuck together to study and make sure everyone made their grades.
As long as Carter can remember, he’d always wanted to “have a little store of my own.” He eventually achieved that very thing. For more than 50 years, he’s operated Carter Drug Store (later renamed Hyat-Carter Herbal Shoppe) in Milwaukee.
Carter and his shop are such an indelible part of the city’s Amani neighborhood that last year his community honored him by renaming the street on which he worked — to Dr Lester L. Carter Way.
From left: Yolanda Y. Reynolds, BA’18; A. Vivian Amu, BA’02, MS’19; Tiecy Foster Cotton, BA’02; and Tiffany Foster Waites, BSN’02.
Omaha natives Tiecy Foster Cotton and her sister, Tiffany Foster Waites, drove up from Texas to attend the Black Alumni Gathering and Native Omaha Days. “I wanted to come back,” Tiecy said, “because I wanted to meet people who look like me and share the same background, culture and ideals. I thought it was awesome, the fact that they filled this event center in the heart of North Omaha. I had to come.”
Amu — a wedding coordinator at St. John’s Parrish who came to Creighton from Nigeria about 20 years ago — said, “I didn’t even know there were this many people who graduated from Creighton who look like me. This has just made me feel really special and part of Creighton in a new way.”
“We of course see great value in recruiting and retaining more Black candidates for faculty and staff positions,” Fr. Hendrickson told attendees of the Black Alumni Gathering. “Likewise, we see the value in fostering diversity for our students, as well. But more than simply increasing numbers, we want people to feel an ownership at Creighton, to feel they’re a part of the community.”
“When we think about Creighton,” said Dr. Whitt, “we think about this Jesuit, Catholic approach. That’s one of the things that drew me to Creighton to do the work of diversity and inclusion. It compels us to value individuals. To value whole individuals, to be in a position where we can speak the language of mission when we’re engaging in diversity and inclusion work. We want to be able to bring our full selves to the table.
“It makes me proud we’re all working together as a team and starting to change the ways people think they can interact. We’re making it very clear that we want to hear from people, that we want to be able to make this progress together. I really feel like this is the start of something special.”
Dr. Whitt, left, talks with Donell Brown, MFIN’16. Brown, who works for Union Pacific in Omaha, said, “an event for African-Americans is a great idea. I really wanted to make it to this.”
From left: Abiola A. Kosoko, BA’09; Shannon D. Melton, BS’09; and Kathie Williams Melton, BSN’74. Williams Melton, an Omaha native, flew in from California, where she’s lived for more than 30 years. She tries to make it home as much as she can, and the Black Alumni Gathering was a good reason to make the trip. “I wouldn’t miss this for the world,” she said. “Creighton has never had anything like this. It’s good. It’s a good start. I’m glad the University sees the value of something like this.”