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BAMIT event highlights black achievement in arts and sciences

Honoring what Chancellor Phil Clay PhD '75 called "a deep and relevant history," members of Black Alumni at MIT (BAMIT) held a semi-formal dinner in the Picower Institute Atrium on Saturday to celebrate its 30th anniversary as an organization.

The event's theme, "Where Art Meets Science: Celebrating Past, Present, and Future BAMIT Accomplishments," highlighted the breadth of black alumni achievement in the arts and sciences and the 30-year history of BAMIT.

Approximately 100 alumni and students attended the event, which featured a panel discussion moderated by Bayer Professor of Chemical Engineering Professor Paula Hammond '84, PhD '93. Panelists included Samuel Nixon Jr. '80, a minister from Washington; visual effects artist Greg Anderson '94, SM '96; Hollywood writer/director Saladin Patterson '94; Nelly Rosario '94, an author and Texas State University professor; and professional saxophonist Louis Fouché '07.

The discussion touched on a range of subjects related to art and science, including how an engineering approach can benefit work in the arts and humanities and the relationship between science and literature. "If science is about discovery and fiction is possibility, then I'm interested in discovering possibilities," said Rosario.

Kerry Bowie '94, who organized the event, noted that the panel was designed to showcase a mix of different career paths and demographics -- reflecting the varied nature of the black community at MIT.

"Our group is diverse," Bowie said. "We've got Caribbeans, Africans, Caribbean Americans, African Americans -- if we don't get together, we might not understand each other. But when we meet and spend time together, we see that our cultures, cuisines, and family dynamics are similar, all originating from a shared experience."

Finding acceptance in an affinity group like BAMIT, which celebrates black history and accomplishment, has been a source of inspiration for those black students at MIT who, as Bowie described, "might have made it to the school only to find themselves stuck in survival mode."

By campaigning for a greater presence of black role models on campus and focusing on career development, networking, black student retention, and scholarship fundraising, BAMIT nurtures a culture that supports black students and alumni.

Toward the end of the evening, Darryll Pines SM '88, PhD '92 told the attendees that he believed BAMIT's greatest accomplishment over the past three decades has been its service as the social conscience of MIT.

"[BAMIT] ensures a positive environment is created for all students at MIT, not just a few. But," he cautioned, "our work is not done yet."

In a call to action, Pines urged attendees to reach out to the next generation by rededicating their commitment to K-12 education, one-on-one tutoring, and the development of poverty-alleviating technologies. "We are MIT," he said. "It's in us, in our blood. We can do this."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 8, 2009 (download PDF).

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