After the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2012, Chyann Starks '13 and fellow members of Franklin & Marshall College's Black Student Union (BSU) set out to bring the national discussion of racial equality that surrounded the case to F&M.
Starks, a Spanish major from Brooklyn, N.Y., worked with a group of students, faculty and staff to organize a weeklong event, featuring a guest speaker who could delve into the issues of ethnic identity, stereotypes and violence, and in a way that would resonate with the entire campus.
With support from the College's Common Hour Committee, they secured Cornel West, the celebrated professor and prominent public voice on issues relating to social and economic justice, race, and black theology, to deliver the keynote address and launched F&M's first Civil Rights Week in February. The event aligned with BSU's mission to recognize the many aspects of College that influence the lives of African-American students and to provide a supportive community that recognizes all viewpoints.
"I wanted to do something that would involve the whole community and do so for a week," Starks said. In the BSU's invitation to West, Starks explained that the goals for Civil Rights Week were "to raise awareness on the F&M campus about the obstacles that African-Americans have faced historically, both politically and socially; to highlight the contributions African-Americans have made to the formation of American culture and how that impact resonates nationally and globally; and to create venues where open, honest and respectful conversations about race can be fostered between African American students and their peers."
The result was a powerful example of the impact African-American students and the BSU have on campus, said Tony Ross '91, chair of the African-American Alumni Council (AAAC), which supports both alumnni and students on campus. The BSU honored Starks with the Bridgett Award, named for one of F&M's first African-American graduates, at the BSU's Black Carpet Formal March 23.
"I and so many alumni are so moved by and proud of Chyann and others who have continued the tradition of leadership by students of African descent in the College community," Ross said in presenting Starks with the award. "I encourage the BSU to continue the legacy of Civil Rights Week in the years to come and to make it a tradition at F&M."
The award recognizes the contributions of students while honoring Bridgett, who was a charter member of African-American Alumni Council. AAAC also created a medal it awards annually to alumni in Bridgett's name.
"Sydney has been just a remarkable example for the young students to see," said Art Taylor '80, who co-founded the Council in 1988. "He came in during what must have been a challenging point in F&M's history and became someone who is statesman-like. He doesn't complain about the challenges life puts before him. He just smiles and says it's part of life. His way of life is worth emulating."
Bridgett, a retired teacher and member of the U.S. Foreign Service who now lives in Willow Street, Pa., said he is honored that both BSU and the AAAC created awards in his honor. Both organizations exemplify the kind of support Bridgett received as a student at F&M.
"When I started, I was not qualified to attend, but a professor took a specific interest in me and saw that I got in," Bridgett recalled. "I was one of the first three black graduates, and I am very proud of that and happy with my experience at F&M."
Starks said it was a great honor to be selected as the recipient of this year’s BSU award.
"I appreciate the BSU and Council for considering the ways I have tried to contribute to F&M during my time here," said Starks, who plans to pursue a teaching job in the United States or Latin America after graduation "I am most honored to receive an award named after Mr. Bridgett, and to be aligned with him and all of his contributions to F&M.
"The award recognizes Mr. Bridgett's legacy and helps us be mindful of ways we, too, can contribute to F&M by giving back," Starks said. "Part of being accepted to F&M is to receive the gifts and opportunities the College presents to us. It is important to find productive ways to use what we are given and to work to make F&M a better community."