‘A Bridge to Connect Black Alumni’
The Black Alumni Council’s inaugural president, Erica S. Johnson ’07, is from Norwalk, Connecticut, but has lived in Columbia, South Carolina, for most of her life. She majored in health and exercise science and served as an assistant manager to the women’s basketball team, an executive member of the Student League for Black Culture, and president of the Furman University Gospel Ensemble. She was also involved with the university’s NAACP chapter and Furman University International Student Association. Today, she owns her own company, Leap Branding and PR, LLC, and lives in Greenville.
What was your Furman experience like?
My experience was highlighted by the support of Dr. Idella Glenn ’84, Laura Baker, Dr. Harry Shucker ’66, Dr. Susan Shi ’71 and President David Shi ’73. I was met with challenges in my Furman experience that I felt empowered to overcome because I knew their support was backing me. We also had a strong culture among our Black students, faculty and staff. From SLBC cookouts to Greek life, holiday dinners, and notable moments at our community table in the Dining Hall. We went on Civil Rights tours and brought many cultural events to campus through our chapter of NAACP and SLBC’s attendance at the National Association for Campus Activities. Having a vibrant Black community entwined with the campus culture is what I cherish most about my experience.
What are you most excited about as the council begins its work?
I think most importantly, the fact that it is now established. This has been a part of over 10 years of advocacy and, most recently, four years of active work on campus with the Center for Inclusive Communities, the chief diversity officer and the Office of Alumni and Parent Engagement. We have long desired to establish a bridge to connect Black alumni to each other, the university and current Black students. We sought to reestablish the culture that connected so many Black alumni for decades under the leadership of Dr. Idella Glenn ’84. This effort is not solely in response to the petition. However, the petition solidified the need for its swift instatement (Editor’s note: In 2020, a group of Black alumni petitioned Furman to address campus culture and racism.)
Who will be among the council’s membership?
Our members span the nation and are representative of a variety of careers and interests, from the WNBA to the financial and legal fields and higher education, to those who lead commissions in the community and are leaders in the field of diversity, equity and inclusion, such as Lillian Brock Flemming ’71, M ’75 H’14, Idella Glenn ’84, Nalisha Henry ’06, George Singleton ’84, Osa Benson ’95 and Rushia Brown ’94. We will be actively engaging the Black alumni and students with on-campus events while we work to advocate for changes that create the inclusive community Furman is working to establish.
How will the council connect with students?
We are working with students on a peer-to-peer mentoring program and on internship opportunities and job placements with Steve Hairston, Furman’s assistant director of employer engagement. We will continue our work with Deborah Allen, director of the Center for Inclusive Communities, and the Office of Admissions. We look forward to connecting more students with alumni from their first moments on campus to the time they become members of our Black Alumni Association.