All Black Gala celebrates Black excellence

California State University, Monterey Bay’s (CSUMB) sixth annual All Black Gala is a formal event to celebrate Black hxstory and the diversity of Black culture, created by the Otter Cross Cultural Center (OC3), Associated Students, and the Center for Black Student Success. This year, it took place on Feb. 26 through Zoom.

The emcee for this year’s Gala was Brooklyn Greene, the president of CSUMB’s Black Students United club. Greene led attendees through the event and presented awards to Black community members on and off-campus.

The All Black Gala provides a space to bring together students, staff, faculty, alumni, and community members. CSUMB’s website states the event aims to foster belongingness and cultivate community amongst campus populations.

This year, the All Black Gala theme was “Re-Connecting to Monterey County’s Historic Black Community: Honoring Black Excellence Past, Present, and Future.”

In previous years, the All Black Gala hosted a keynote speaker to share their story and speak on Black culture. Instead of hosting a keynote speaker this year, the All Black Gala stayed true to its theme. The majority of the event was filled with awards honoring Black students, alumni, staff, and community members.

While there was no keynote speaker this year, the All Black Gala did present a spoken-word poetry performance by CSUMB humanities and communication professor Daniel Summerhill.

His performance reflected on the vigilance and strength of the Black community, overcoming the obstacles they have had to face.

After Summerhills’s performance, Greene swiftly transitioned into presenting awards for Black students, alumni, staff, and community members. While there were eight awards planned for the event, honoring students Zah-Rah LaTour and Marcus Garrett, alumni Antoinette Anderson and Tyler Williamson, staff members Jessica Newman and Lynne White-Dixon, and community members Edward Armstrong and Helen Rucker, there were two surprise awards within the gala.

The first was awarded to CSUMB’s associate vice president for inclusive excellence and chief diversity officer, Brian Corpening, for his work to improve inclusivity on campus. Corpening has fought tirelessly for equality, participating in sit-ins and fighting for financial and material resources necessary to create places like a Black student center.

“Now it’s not about me, never has been. I’m a flawed person, very flawed. But the one thing I’ve always believed in is that if I wanted to make it better, I had to be willing to sacrifice and commit myself to doing exactly that,” said Corpening.

He continued, speaking a bit on his personal life and struggles to get to where he is now.

He ended by saying, “And that’s why I came here, and so I’m thankful that I came here. I’ve met some phenomenal people, and I thank all of you. I’m blessed, and I will continue to be blessed because I will always think about this. So thank you, and I will never forget this evening.”

Before ending the event, President Edward Ochoa returned to the virtual stage to announce one final award for a community member, Hellen Rucker. President Ochoa announced CSUMB would be renaming the Center for Black Student Success to the Hellen Rucker Center for Black Excellence.

“Not only does this new name honor Helen Rucker, but it also honors and recognizes all the individuals in the community who played such an important role in bringing about California State University, Monterey Bay,” said President Ochoa. “CSUMB owes all of you an enormous set of gratitude, and we hope that the Helen Rucker Center for black Excellence captures those feelings of deep appreciation.”

Rucker was entirely taken by surprise with this announcement. “Oh, wow! Wow! Oh, that’s all I can say is wow! … Thank you. The university that I love. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!”

CSUMB will be hosting an in-person All Black Gala mixer on April 20 to celebrate the Black Excellence of all their honorees and their contributions to the CSUMB and Monterey County communities.

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