Connection and Collaboration on Martha’s Vineyard

Connection and Collaboration on Martha’s Vineyard
Events held with Duke and Harvard alumni highlighted the annual summer CBT reunion

Every August, Black alumni from colleges and Universities across the Northeast hold reunions on Martha’s Vineyard, joining their HBCU counterparts who celebrate Legacy Week. Syracuse University alumni have gathered in Oak Bluffs for CBT: Martha’s Vineyard since 2018, a mini reunion always considered special for the historic significance of its beautiful locale.

For the first time in 2023, CBT: Martha’s Vineyard included collaborative events with other institutions—Duke and Harvard universities—enhancing existing connections and forging new friendships.

The three-day reunion kicked off on August 14 with an ACC Mixer attended by 118 Syracuse and Duke alumni at Garde East Marina. Despite the longtime basketball rivalry, alumni in attendance found plenty in common: Syracuse grads who are Duke parents and vice versa, undergraduate alumni of one institution who earned graduate degrees at the other, fraternity and sorority membership, as well as industry and professional connections.

The event was conceived by Clarybel Peguero ’97, assistant vice president of multicultural advancement at Duke University, who helped launch her department at Duke using Syracuse’s Office of Multicultural Advancement as a model, with instrumental assistance from Rachel Vassel ’91, G’21, associate vice president of multicultural advancement. With Duke alumni interested in convening on Martha’s Vineyard, Peguero reached out to Vassel about the possibility of a joint event. “The amount of interest shown by our Duke alumni was completely overwhelming. Their desire to get together in fellowship with each other and to network with Syracuse alumni was clear,” she says. “Personally, I got to experience my alma mater and the institution where I have worked for 15 years coming together. I wore my blue and white dress to represent that Duke Magic and proudly rocked a Syracuse name tag.”

The next day, 275 Syracuse and Harvard University alumni gathered at historic Union Chapel for Leave! Leave Now!, a film and talk given by Syracuse University artist-in-residence Carrie Mae Weems H’17. The presentation, a joint project of the Syracuse Office of Multicultural Advancement and the Harvard University Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, told the migration story of Weem’s grandfather, Frank Weems, a tenant farmer in Arkansas, who made his way to Chicago on foot after being beaten and left for dead by a white mob. Weems was introduced by her friend Cheryl Finley, inaugural director of the Atlanta University Center Art History + Curatorial Studies Collective, Distinguished Visiting Professor in the Department of Art and Visual Culture at Spelman College and associate professor in the History of Art Department at Cornell University. The presentation was followed by a discussion on reparations with the artist and law professors Paula C. Johnson (Syracuse), Cornell William Brooks (Harvard) and Kenneth W. Mack (Harvard).

On Wednesday evening, Orange alumni and friends came together for a final reception at the home of Camille Donald Simpson ’95, who hosted the event in support of the Midwin Charles ’95 OTHC Scholarship Fund. “Midwin was a dear friend that I had known since high school,” says Simpson. “It was actually a visit to her at Syracuse that made me transfer to Syracuse in my sophomore year. I feel so connected to our alumni during the Martha’s Vineyard events and this year was particularly meaningful to me as it was a way to honor Midwin.”

Charles was a prominent defense attorney in New York City and later a legal analyst on MSNBC and CNN. Following her death in 2021, friends established an OTHC scholarship in her memory.

“Midwin was the absolute best of everything that a Syracuse University student can strive to become in so many ways. To be able to work with the amazing Rachel Vassel, her Office of Multicultural Advancement team, and close friends who all loved Midwin to help create and raise funds for a scholarship to honor and share her legacy with our wonderful Orange community and beyond is a wonderful privilege,” says Michael Barbosa ’96, a member of the SUMA Advisory Council. “We had a great time as always coming together as a community to do good and important work to support current and future SU students.”

While Syracuse University’s diverse alumni are always happy “coming back together” in any locale, doing so on Martha’s Vineyard is distinctive, and alumni in attendance agree that this year was exceptional.

“Martha’s Vineyard is a special place for a lot of African Americans and is a great spot for many schools to engage alumni,” says Simpson. “The Syracuse events with Duke and Harvard highlight that. These types of joint ventures are not easy to accomplish but can happen on the Vineyard.”

“I appreciate the creativity of the Office of Multicultural Advancement team for continuing to find new ways to bring alums together to provide fun and informative experiences,” adds Dana Harrell ’71, G’73. “It was a wonderful three days on the Vineyard.”