The long awaited inauguration Tuesday of the Black Student Success Center hosted by the Ujima Club and Blackademia filled the CC building from corner to corner with students proud to make up the black community at PCC and be part of history.

Eric Haynes/Courier PCC Alumni Artist Christen Austin stands in front of her mural on display during the grand opening of the Black Student Services Center on Tuesday, October 13, 2015. Austin dedicated her mural to the BSSC, and it will be displayed upstairs of the CC building.
Eric Haynes/Courier
PCC Alumni Artist Christen Austin stands in front of her mural on display during the grand opening of the Black Student Services Center on Tuesday, October 13, 2015. Austin dedicated her mural to the BSSC, and it will be displayed upstairs of the CC building.

The afternoon started when Director of Facilities Dr. Rueben Smith cut the ribbon and officially opened the Black Student Success Center.

Although there were a large number of students happy to be part of the special day, it was hard to find anyone more excited than Blackademia co-coordinator Armia Walker.

If the Blackademia project sounds brand new, it’s because it is. The Blackademia project was the product of a grant proposal that took into effect this year.

“Blackademia helps to increase the retention rate and success for black students on campus in general,” said Walker. “The academic gaps are so daunting and that inspired us to make this project.”

Perhaps the most exciting part of the evening was the build-up to the unveiling of the mural for the new Black Student Success Center. Before the curtains over the mural were to be lifted, esteemed guest Dr. Robert Bell, PCC’s vice president of Academic Affairs, shared his thoughts on what this means to him and PCC.

“When you leave here, you become PCC alum. You become our PCC black alum,” said Bell. “We are going to expand a network for the next two, three, four generations of students to come and talk to us.”

There was nothing but high praise all around for Bell and his contributions to making this day possible, but Bell was the first to dismiss this praise and acknowledge others that were an integral part of the occasion.

“My job is easy,” said Bell. “My job is to stay behind the scenes and listen to what this lady [Gena Lopez] tells me to do.”

The event was made possible because of the collaborative work of those who felt passionate about the project. If there was a name that was brought up the most throughout the event, it was Ujima counselor and coordinator Gena Lopez.

Lopez feels the center will help students grow academically and as a person.

“This place is going to offer students to interact with one another, but also engage with counseling faculty, academic coaching and gives them a sense of cultural pride, as well as an academic expectation,” said Lopez.

That expectation Lopez spoke of was a hot topic on the day. Bell spoke about the importance of beating the statistics that exist with the black community on campus.

“We’re about turning around the dynamic for African-American students in Pasadena and at PCC, which if you look at the numbers and you look at statistics, it says we’re not doing what we need to do and you are not successful,” said Bell. “Today we turn that around. We are part of that untied commitment to turn that around.”

The group of people that gathered around Bell to accept his call to action were now given a place to build on the unity he spoke of.

“We’re happy to give these students a place to go,” said Walker. “Studies show that if students feel welcome on campus that they typically do better.”

Bell was honored with a plaque to thank him for his devotion to making the new center possible. He used a moment of his time to bless the new center before the mural was finally shown to the public.

The mural was celebrated around the area, even bringing some people to tears. The artist behind it was Christen Austin, a PCC alumnus.

Austin was involved with Ujima program while she was a student at PCC, making designs and logos for t-shirts, so the community was familiar with her work.

“I was really happy when they asked me to do it,” said Austin. “I did a mural for the Learning Assistance center in the D building, and I guess that’s what kind of influenced them to ask me saying ‘You can’t do one for them and not do one for us.”

The mural took Austin her whole summer, but the effort shows in her art.

As big as the installment of the center was, it is only beginning of what Lopez hopes is a sign of things to come.

“We moved in too small, and now we have a place to start,” said Lopez. “We only plan to expand and get bigger as we go.”

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