From the time she was 13 years old, Angela Groom Brown ’80 worked summer jobs. One year, shortly before she returned to Clarion University for the fall semester, a career employee known as “the meanest lady in the building” summoned Brown, grabbed her hand and pushed something into it.
“It was $5,” Brown recalls. “She probably earned $1.25 an hour, but she wanted me to have that money. She wanted to do her part to make sure I finished school.”
Her peers in the Clarion University Black Alumni group have different versions of the same story, in which people they knew – and people they didn't know – took part in helping them get where they are today.
"She said I wasn't just going to school for me, but for others, so they could see if I could do it, they could do it, too," Brown recalls the woman telling her. "We have been taught that it's our duty to give back and to reach back," Brown said.
The Black Alumni held a Black Student Reunion during homecoming from 1998 to 2012. Attendance at homecoming began to drop off due to rising travel costs, so the reunion committee began to organize reunions closer to where many of them lived.
"We decided if we couldn't get them to come back to Clarion, we would take the party to the people," Brown said.
Alumnus Joe Pailin '79 had periodically organized events in the Philadelphia area to raise money for funds that supported black students; the Black Alumni adopted that framework. Party for a Purpose was born.
Since then, Party for a Purpose has been held in Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and Philadelphia, which is where the 2019 event, in November, took place. The four-person core committee of Brown, DeBorah Spicer-Sanders '76 , Alva Epps Edwards '76 and Annette Curry Redd '77 plans the gathering, which they try to have annually.
This year's purpose was to support the university's Student Resource Room. Begun in 2018, the Resource Room provides food, school supplies, toiletries, cleaning supplies and paper products – essential items that ensure students have what they need to succeed. Students simply go there and select what they need.
The 2019 Party for a Purpose raised $2,315, half of which will be used to stock the Resource Room with products designed for black students' needs. In addition, boxes of non-perishable items, toiletries, clothing and other goods were donated by Spicer-Sanders and the staff of Hyatt House, King of Prussia, where the event was held.
Previous events supported the Black Students Fund, an emergency assistance fund that retired President Joe Grunenwald and Dr. Brenda Dede, retired associate vice president for academic affairs, initiated when they learned of a black student who had only a can of tuna to eat each day. Students can apply for help with a medical expense, aid in traveling back to Clarion after a holiday break, food, textbooks, anything that a scholarship wouldn't typically cover.
Brown said the assistance the Black Alumni group provides to students wouldn't be possible without the help of many Clarion University people. She recalls the encouragement of Grunenwald, retired President Karen Whitney and retired vice president of student affairs Harry Tripp for the alumni to remain connected to Clarion and to each other, and Jeff MacTaggart, director of dining services, who ensured that a favored spot in Gemmell Student Complex was available to the alumni to gather during homecoming. There, the alumni invited students to join them for hearty dinners, music, games and fellowship each night of homecoming. Grunenwald and his wife Janice were fixtures at the dinners, as was Dede, who has mentored countless black students.
The Black Alumni wouldn't exist without the people who supported them when they were students.
"Francine McNairy and Terri White picked up where our families left off, providing encouragement, guidance, accountability and tough love when needed. As a direct result of their interaction and intervention, we earned our degrees and proudly walked across that stage," Brown said. "They said remember, if you succeed, another one can. It's not just about you, but for all who follow."