After more than a year of online-only programming owing to COVID-19 restrictions, the Society of Black Alumni, one of Johns Hopkins Alumni Association's oldest identity groups, is a community ready to reemerge and reimagine itself.
SOBA returned to hosting in-person events this year and is broadening its reach to encourage diversity at the university and offer mentoring and networking opportunities to current and future Black alumni. Begun in 1995, SOBA later established the SOBA Scholarship Fund for undergraduates and the SOBA Presidential Professorship.
Elena Thompson, senior associate director for Identity & Shared Interest Communities, grows the group's reach by creating bridges with all the divisions across Johns Hopkins' campuses. "Each division of Hopkins is distinctive. But when you're looking at community by identity, we're so much stronger together," she says.
Connecting wasn't always easy for Black alumni, says Wesley Wood, A&S '97, SOBA Executive Committee president since 2019. His vision for the group is one in which "alumni of all ages from a wide range of fields come together not only to network but to support each other personally," he says.
SOBA volunteers hope to build on the recent momentum to strengthen the group's cornerstone spring and fall events and increase participation. SOBA Reunion 2022, held during Alumni Weekend in March, featured a Friday evening welcoming reception and a food truck tailgate gathering, as well as a game night for all alumni.
Active volunteer Jackie Harris, Bus '11, would like to collaborate with other Black alumni groups at Hopkins to create a major homecoming event. Having attended Fisk University as an undergraduate, Harris is inspired by the HBCU's spirited reunions. "To come together around a common camaraderie at a major event, I'd love to be a part of that," she says.
SOBA's Black Alumni Week(end) in September 2021 gathered graduates virtually for important discussion, networking, and socializing around the Congressional Black Caucus events in Washington, D.C. The group's second annual celebration this year was a Fireside Chat that joined SOBA Presidential Professor Martha S. Jones, a professor of history at the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences and at the SNF Agora Institute, with 1619 Project author Nikole Hannah-Jones, who holds the Knight Chair in Race and Journalism at Howard University. Attended by 60, the discussion was a "definite highlight," Thompson says.
The four-evening event also included a panel discussion on current issues of Black identity and a Black & Blue Gathering featuring Hopkins entrepreneurs. "Down the line, our goal is to make this a real destination program," Thompson says. "With SOBA and all our identity programs, it's about helping people find their community."
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