(From left) Suffolk University Dean of Students Shawn Newton, Suffolk Law School alumnus Damian Wilmot, Suffolk Law Dean of Students Office Coordinator Rosa Urena and Suffolk Alumnus Roxann Cooke – all honorees at Friday night's celebration– stand with Suffolk University President Marisa Kelly (Caroline Enos)
(From left) Suffolk University Dean of Students Shawn Newton, Suffolk Law School alumnus Damian Wilmot, Suffolk Law Dean of Students Office Coordinator Rosa Urena and Suffolk Alumnus Roxann Cooke – all honorees at Friday night's celebration– stand with Suffolk University President Marisa Kelly

Caroline Enos

Suffolk University celebrates second Black Excellence Dinner

October 9, 2019

Suffolk University’s second Celebration of Black Excellence Dinner Friday night showcased those who exemplify black excellence in the Suffolk community, and what this term really means.

“Black excellence is not limited to a particular category of people,” said keynote speaker Serge Georges Jr. to the 200 faculty, alumni, students and their families after they settled into the candle-lit tables of the Empire Ballroom at Courtyard by Marriott Boston Downtown. 

“It’s varied and it’s vast, and it’s not limited to academic performance, or your professional enhancements, or what address you live at, and whether or not you speak improper grammar,” said Georges. 

Georges, an adjunct professor at Suffolk Law School, graduated from Suffolk Law in 1996 and now serves as an associate justice of the Boston Municipal Court.

He was joined by five honorees and other members from across Suffolk’s community to celebrate black excellence, and its importance to the university.

Caroline Enos
The Honorable Serge Georges Jr. gives the keynote speech on Friday night at the Empire Ballroom at the Courtyard by Marriott Boston Downtown

“One of the things that makes the Suffolk community great is that we believe we are stronger because we are inclusive,” said Suffolk University President Marisa Kelly in a speech at the event. “This celebration is an important example of the strengthening of the ties that are so essential to Suffolk and its future.” 

Kelly honored the 25th anniversary of the university’s Black Studies program and its founder, associate history professor Robert Bellinger, at the event. 

Bellinger was honored as the College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Faculty member at the inaugural Celebration of Black Excellence Dinner in 2018. 

“[Bellinger has] been a positive force at Suffolk University for over 30 years,” said Kelly. “[He] has been a pioneer, a trailblazer, a teacher, a mentor and a leader in developing the Black Studies program and in bringing to Suffolk students a wealth of knowledge and experience in black history and black culture.” 

“On the 25th anniversary of the Black Studies Program, we celebrate you,” Kelly said to Bellinger at the event. 

Representatives from the celebration’s planning committee and other campus organizations that helped put on the event, including Suffolk’s Black Alumni Network, Black Law Students Association and Black Student Union, welcomed the five honorees. 

Suffolk Dean of Students Shawn Newton received the university’s Outstanding Faculty/Staff Award, while Suffolk Law School Dean of Students Office Coordinator Rosa Urena was given the same award for Suffolk Law.

Roxann Cooke, EMBA ‘16, is a regional and managing director for JPMorgan Chase Band and received the Sawyer Business School Outstanding Alumni Award. 

Criminal justice lawyer Damian Wilmot, JD ‘00, was given an Outstanding Suffolk Law Alumni Award, and research entomologist Daniel Impoinvil, BS ‘99, received the College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Alumni Award. 

For senior Vanessa Vega, president of the Suffolk acapella group Soulfully Versed, the night was also a chance to celebrate current students. She and her group sang a rendition of “Killing Me Softly” at the beginning of the celebration. 

“[Being able to perform here] shows that we’re important to the school, that they actually care about our voices and that they want to continue to see us succeed,” said Vega in an interview with The Suffolk Journal. “This also shows new students that [excellence] is something you can achieve. This is something you can strive for.”

Caroline Enos
Members of Soulfully Versed perform an acapella rendition of the song “Killing Me Softly”

Assad Lyn, JD ‘15, attended Friday’s celebration to meet and reconnect with other Suffolk graduates of color. 

“It’s important to foster community, and it’s important to remind people that these places and these events exist…,” said Lyn in an interview with The Journal. “It’s important for people of color to know you exist, ban together and help each other out.”

To Georges, this sentiment is the key to black excellence. He said in his speech that people of color must respect every achievement of those in their community, whether they be lawyers and doctors, or bus drivers and lunch ladies. 

“Despite all of the individual and collective professional and educational achievement in this room, we can’t allow ourselves to think that [black excellence is exclusionary],” said Georges. “To do so would assume that we have to be distinguished amongst ourselves… that perhaps you have to be better than other black people. And that isn’t true. That’s never true.” 

Suffolk Board of Trustees member Ernst Guerrier called for alumni at the event to donate to the school and help provide opportunity for Suffolk students of color.

“I came to this place without really a definition of what it is I want to do. But I found a community that accepted me, that received me, that allowed me to grow, but that was done by the generosity of many folks well before me that gave to Suffolk,” said Guerrier in a speech at the event. “Folks, I’ve never forgotten that.”

Guerrier said he would match the first $5,000 donated to the university during the celebration. 

“Black excellence means that we are all in this together,” said Georges. “We won’t climb over one another in that bucket trying to get out, but we will walk together with each other to help us all get there.”

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