Skip to main content

WCU Stories

African American Society reunion features Greek anniversaries, return of gospel choir

african american society greek orgs

Reunion attendees, including members of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority and Omega Psi Phi fraternity, celebrate organizational anniversaries as part of the African American Alumni and Friends Reunion.

By Bill Studenc

More than 150 African American alumni recently gathered at Western Carolina University for a weekend of reconnecting, networking, food, fun and music highlighted by a performance by a beloved performance ensemble.

This year’s biennial African American Alumni and Friends Reunion, held April 19-21, also coincided with anniversary celebrations by two African American Greek-letter organizations and the return of the Inspirational Gospel Choir.

Members of the WCU chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority celebrated the organization’s 40th anniversary while members of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity commemorated their chapter’s 45th year.

The weekend began with a Friday evening social on the terrace of the Apodaca Science Building featuring violin tunes from Brandon Rice, a 2023 graduate of WCU, followed by a Saturday business meeting and a “Leaders on the Lawn” networking event for alumni and students.

Saturday evening brought a semi-formal banquet and celebration of the history of WCU African American students, faculty, staff and alumni. The theme of the evening was “Honoring Legacies," with history professor Henry Louis Suggs honored as the first African American faculty member at WCU.

Closing the weekend was a faith service and performance by the newly restored Inspirational Gospel Choir. Open to all students, the recognized campus organization fell silent during the COVID-19 pandemic and returned at Homecoming 2023 in time to mark its 50th year of existence.

“This was a fantastic reunion weekend, and it was a true labor of love,” said Pam Cook Tate, a 1984 WCU graduate who served as chair of the planning committee for this year’s reunion. “The reunions are a testament to the breadth of experiences of the African American students of WCU. The reunions also show the bonds created between us with each other and also the bond between all of us and our beloved university.”

african american sermon

Alumnus Derreck Herron, who delivered the faith sermon Sunday morning. and wife Tonya Crockett Herron participate in reunion activities.

It's been quite an evolution for an event that began as an informal backyard gathering of a couple dozen WCU African American alumni and members of their families back in the late 1980s. Ed Holland, a 1975 WCU graduate and retired church administrator, hosted that inaugural event at his home in Mecklenburg County.

“The gathering was a summer Saturday afternoon cookout with food, music, dancing and a bouncy house for the kids. For many of us, we had not seen each other since leaving Cullowhee, so as many as 10 to 14 years had passed,” said Holland, a current member of the Western Carolina University Foundation Board of Director and former president of the WCU Alumni Association Board of Directors.

“We coordinated with the Western Alumni Affairs Office for known addresses and other contact information that was available. Joe Crocker (a 1974 WCU graduate and current member of the university’s Board of Trustees) and I financially sponsored the event so there was no direct out-of-pocket expense for those who attended. Joe coordinated with the Alumni Affairs Office for WCU memorabilia giveaways.”

The African American Alumni Society officially formed in 2018. The affinity group’s mission is to facilitate networking opportunities between African American alumni and students, faculty and staff by hosting academic, professional and social programming and encouraging support of WCU’s advancement and development initiatives. It also serves as a resource for an exchange of career information and other networking opportunities.

As part of the 2024 reunion weekend, Eric Barnes, a 1984 WCU graduate who resides in Covington, Georgia, was introduced as president of the African American Alumni Society. Charlotte resident Regina Johnson Moore, a 1987 graduate of WCU, is serving as vice president.

“Our  primary goal is to enhance the African American experience at Western Carolina University as a whole. We can do this by communicating with transparency to the masses about the good work we can accomplish as a collective. A major part of that is to complete the work of endowing a scholarship,” said Barnes, an insurance professional. The group raised approximately $8,500 for its scholarship fund during the reunion weekend.

“We want to increase our presence at major events of the university on and off campus. We also want to assist with increasing and maintaining African American students and faculty at Western Carolina University.”

african american society fraternity

Leaders of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity come together to help celebrate their chapter’s 45th anniversary.

Participants in the reunion weekend say they believe such events are an important part of the engagement of African American alumni with their alma mater.

“The experience of an African American student on Western’s campus is different from others,” Holland said. “Some may feel intentionally not included and alone in their experience. The African American Alumni Society wants the current students to understand that they are supported by those who have attended WCU before them. Our presence on campus is intended to be an opportunity to share and encourage.”

Barnes agreed. “Having events like the African American Alumni Family and Friends Reunion and Homecoming tailgate are events that will draw the largest crowds to campus. We want people to come back, have fellowship and share great stories of their experiences along with their lives to date,” he said.

Although the reunion has a focus on African American alumni, the event and related activities are open to all members of the WCU community. “My hope is that the reunion continues to grow and becomes more connected to the campuswide alumni organization,” said Cook Tate, a speech and theater arts major at WCU and retired middle school teacher from Charlotte.

“Modeling the importance of a unified and productive alumni organization for our university remains the utmost in importance regarding the reunion. The reunion size should never decrease. Rather, it should grow steadily and become a legacy event for years to come.”

Participants also expressed appreciation to the Office of Alumni Engagement for its role in supporting the African American reunion and other events. 

“The Engagement Office’s involvement has been critical for the success of the most recent event,” Holland said. “I am pleased to see the extent to which they have cooperated with the reunion leadership to make this a very successful weekend experience.”

Office of Web Services