Bill Casher began attending UC Santa Cruz in 1996, studying biochemistry and molecular biology. He describes his undergraduate experience as tumultuous and difficult with the added caveat of feeling isolated as a black, Filipino man in Santa Cruz.
With the help of on-campus organizations like the Filipino Student Association and especially the Black Men’s Alliance (BMA)Kosher (Oakes ’00) was able to find his community as a student and now as an alumnus.
“Being a black science student is challenging and you start looking for community,” Casher said. “I think everyone gets into a college, but finding people who are more like you was a little hard to come by in Santa Cruz. So I’m grateful to the Black Men’s Alliance for helping to fill that emotional void and gap for myself.
The Black Men’s Alliance student group was formed in 1994 to support the black male student body at UCSC. The group held weekly meetings where they talked politics, discussed campus issues, and supported each other emotionally. Over the years, student participation in the BMA has gone up and down. It was primarily a student-focused organization, rather than hiring alumni, Casher said.
In September 2020, Kosher saw the need to bring his community together again and began informally hosting weekly BMA meetings for UCSC alumni. The group became a space for members to support each other following the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police in May 2020 and the subsequent wave of protests against racism and police brutality across the country.
UCSC alumnus and BMA director Patrick Chandler (Rachel Carson ’99, history and politics) said the Black Men’s Alliance was a place where people could speak openly about civil unrest without fear of reprisal .
“In the political nature of the time with uprisings and civil unrest across the country, some of the guys felt they wanted to have an avenue where they could just talk,” Chandler said. “Talk about the imagery of seeing a black man die on television, at the hands of his own government; it’s not something you see happening to people on the national news over and over and over and over again. So we wanted a place where we could just talk, rap, film dozens, laugh and share.
Soon after, BMA members reflected on their strong desire to make an impact and decided to start the alumni organization. Casher took the lead, making him a co-founder and president of the organization. The group currently has 60 active and committed alumni and hopes to gain more. Casher said he hopes BMA’s evolving presence will bridge the gap between students and alumni. In his words, the band is all about “black alumni serving black students.”
“There is an opportunity as alumni to reconnect, reunite and make an impact,” Casher said. “I think we are graduating and we tend to think our impact should now be felt in our workplaces or in our community. But there’s this amazing connectivity that we have as alumni who have been to Santa Cruz. To understand that there are students out there who have the same level of challenge, isolation, and discouragement that we had as undergraduates and to understand that we could really have a huge influence on their outcomes.
BMA alumni have set goals to support students and alumni, including networking opportunities and mentorship programs. Their plans also include providing educational programs such as financial literacy and debt consolidation classes, reinventing scholarships for students, hosting community networking events on campus, and generally a place where students and alumni can find a community.
The Black Men’s Alliance designed its most recent spring event on campus to reflect a traditional barber shop in the black community. Chandler used the example of LeBron James’ HBO show The shop: uninterrupted, where the NBA star welcomes other celebrities, politicians and athletes to have conversations and debates in a barbershop.
BMA’s version of The shop at UCSC included a catered barbecue, networking opportunities, black barbers providing students with fresh haircuts, and a photographer providing professional portraits.
“The idea was that people could come in and sit down and have them cut, and have their hair done and taken care of,” Chandler said. “Because when I was a student at UC Santa Cruz, there were no black barbers in town, and it’s important that people with curly, frizzy hair have someone who knows how to handle it. And so, we had barbers in the back at no cost to the students.
For Kwasi Addae, a UCSC alumnus and BMA (College Nine ’01, Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology) member, the spring event was a great way for him to reconnect with his community and his alma. subdue.
“There were a lot of people I had never seen physically before. [because of the pandemic], so it was really great to catch up with these people,” Addae said. “I think it was really cool for the students to see that there’s a legacy at this university that reflects on them, that there are alumni walking around who look like them – and more importantly than their look like, have had similar experiences to them, and can potentially help them navigate or empathize.
Casher said the organization hopes to be involved in more campus events and expand its reach to more students and alumni.
“As alumni, we could really have a huge influence on student outcomes,” Casher said. “Their graduation rates, their retention rates, their financial solvency, helping them get into professions and leveraging our networks to get into them. So I just want to impress all the alumni to be encouraged to engage and network and get involved with the university and with the alumni groups that are organizing because the impact is exponential.
For more information on how to participate in the black men’s allianceemail Co-founder and President Bill Casher.