We Are Family: A classmates of color reunion
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
As with many reunions, “We Are Family” will include a talent show, eating contest, storytelling, scavenger hunt, lawn games and a barbecue. And, as with most reunions, it will be all about family.
In fact, “We Are Family” is the theme of the St. Cloud State alumni reunion July 24-26 in the Twin Cities. What sets this reunion apart from the hundreds of other family reunions to be held around the state this summer is that many members of this family are related not by blood but by a bond established while they were students at St. Cloud State.
“We were like a family,” said 1998 graduate Floyd Balentine, Minneapolis, of the St. Cloud State students of color who graduated during the last 20 years.
That was especially true of those who came to the university during the early 1990s, he said in recalling his arrival in 1993: “There were very few people of color at St. Cloud State – and in the city, for that matter.”
That year, there were 856 students of color among the 15,000 students at St. Cloud State, of whom 139 were Black or African American. By comparison, the 17,000 students enrolled at St. Cloud State in fall 2008 included 1,334 students of color, of whom 548 were Black or African American.
As a result, the students of color pulled together to adjust to the community and to deal with the racism they at times felt they encountered. “We students of color really bonded,” Balentine said.
Balentine is chairing the reunion, which is open to everyone and is expected to attract many alumni, along with family and friends, who graduated since 1990.
After he earned his bachelor’s degree in the St. Cloud State aviation-professional flight program, Balentine was a flight instructor for two years, then in 2000 joined Mesaba Airlines, where he is a captain on a CRJ200. “I wouldn’t be where I am now without St. Cloud State,” he said. “It was a very positive experience.”
That experience included four years living on campus, two of which were as a resident adviser in Holes Hall. He was a counselor for students in the Advanced Preparation Program, a summer scholarship program for incoming freshman students from under-represented groups. He worked with students in grades 3-8 from underrepresented groups who attended the Pipeline Program’s math, science and computer camps. And he found time to join the Council of African American Students, for which he served as treasurer for three years, Black Students with a Cause and the Aviation Club.
Balentine also joined his classmates of color in advocating for and creating a better campus and community. Every year they would attend out-of-state conferences of students like themselves in predominantly white schools in the Big 8 and the Big 12. “It was a way to connect with other students of color in the same situation,” he said, and to find ways to improve the environment on their campuses and in their communities. Balentine actively facilitated trips to places like Oklahoma, Texas and Iowa State, writing grants to win funding, arranging bussing and hotels.
Balentine also participated in the hunger strike initiated by members of Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana/o de Aztlán (M.E.Ch.A.) in 1995, an event he said was prompted by the feelings of students of color that St. Cloud State needed to take steps to create a more welcoming climate. One outcome of that effort was creation of the university’s Multicultural Resource Center.
The students’ efforts planted the seed for other changes that followed, including the Student Cultural Center and the Chicano/a Studies Program, which were designed to make the college experience at St. Cloud State more relevant to the lives of students of color.
Balentine said the July 24-26 reunion will include lots of time for those who attend to reflect on the impact of their activism, as well as to visit with younger graduates who may not realize what their predecessors accomplished to make St. Cloud State a place where students of color can feel much more comfortable and welcome.
Balentine is looking forward to the reunion as an opportunity to reconnect with alumni “who feel passionate about St. Cloud State,” people he’ll be recruiting in his effort to start an alumni of color chapter. To learn more about the “We Are Family” event sponsored by the St. Cloud State Alumni Association and Multicultural Student Services, and to register, visit www.stcloudstate.edu/alumni/happenings/calendar.asp or call 1-866-464-8759.