Black Student Union celebrates 50 years


The University of Northern Iowa’s Black Student Union (BSU) celebrated 50 years this past weekend with UNI alumni Purnell Cezar, CEO of Black and Bold Coffee and Courtlandt Butts, the founder of  LifeGuardian Worldwide LLC and an equity transformation specialist, alongside two of the seven members of the UNI Seven.

Juana Hollingsworth, a two-time graduate from the university, emceed this event. Hollingsworth was a part of creating a change at the University of Northern Iowa and was heavily involved in the Black Student Union while attending UNI in 2016-2017. Without Hollingsworth and the help of many others, BSU would not be as strong as it is today. “It is a good feeling to be back on campus, mainly because with so much history, with so much knowledge that I have about the institution, to come back as a visitor feels refreshing to see new faces still doing the work that I planted the seed for many years ago. It is inspiring; it makes me want to go back to the campus that I currently work at and do more work and make sure that I am reaching back to the current students to help them and see what I can do to make sure they’re successful to continue to like the legacy of BSU.” Hollingsworth is a full-time Ph.D. student at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Md. Hollingsworth also works a part-time job at Johns Hopkins University in their diversity education program, doing co-curricular education. 

On March 16, 1970, a group of seven students marched to UNI President J.W. Maucker’s home, demanding a safe space for students of color to gather freely and to address the evident and overwhelming presence of racism on campus. The UNI Seven is composed of students Tony Stevens, Terry Pearson, Chip Dalton, Joe Sailor, Ann Bachman, Bryon Washington and Palmer Byrd. On Friday, two out of the seven attended the BSU 50th Anniversary banquet.  

Byron Washington and Glen Moore, not mentioned above, played a massive part in creating a change for the BSU and students on campus in the late 1960s into the early 1970s. For context, in 1964, Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights act that prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. The Civil Rights Act allowed minorities to break barriers within the workspace and gave people of color the right to vote without discrimination. 

Washington and Moore were grateful to be seated at the BSU 50th event. “I’m really pleased to see you young folks carrying on the tradition… I want to make sure that you always get back to the community—a lot about people out there are misguided and suffering. And so there’s a lot of work to be done. So we just scratched the surface. But I’m glad to see that y’all came along and dug the dirt up a little bit more,” Washington stated. Washington continues to express a need for change, reminding us that as we move forward, we never forget where we came from. 

Moore expressed how beautiful it is to see people coming together to continue the change. “This was a blessing that we’re coming together. I’m talking about black, white, pink and purple [coming together]… before it’s all over with, you will not know what color nobody is, what nationality nobody is.” Moore’s main message is a message of unity. He also expressed gratitude to UNI President Mark Nook for continuing to try to find solutions to the problems that we have on campus. Moore noted his willingness to learn and grow and create change. “I also want to thank the president of the campus. He seemed like he wants to come to a solution. He wants to figure out the problem, and he doesn’t seem like he minds communicating with our people.”

The BSU 50th Anniversary banquet would not have been a success if it weren’t for Chiquita Loveless and the BSU executive board. Loveless stated, “congratulations to the Black Student Union. You have stood together to support and combat inequalities at UNI for black and brown students. Continue to stand for what is right and speak truth to power.”