Finding their home

Black alumni share their “JMU WHY?”


SUMMARY: In 2023, members of the JMU Black Alumni Chapter, representing a variety of decades, came together to share their “JMU Why?” This reignited the love and commitment of this community for JMU.

Alexis Robinson (’18)

JMU holds a special place in my heart because I feel it is where I was able to grow into the person I was created to be. I developed leadership skills by participating in multiple clubs/organizations and by hosting campus events. Through my classes, I learned effective time-management skills and how to work with individuals from different backgrounds. All of these skills I use today in my profession. As a first-generation college student, I was able to pave the way for my younger siblings and change my family’s trajectory. I’m grateful that JMU chose me.

- Students for Minority Outreach; Esteem Models; Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, Lambda Chi chapter

Allison Baker (’87)Allison Baker (’87)

I don’t remember when I first learned about JMU, but one visit and a tour with Forrest Parker from the Office of Admissions had me hooked. It was the best decision I’ve ever made: an amazing campus setting, a safe community, academic training that continues to serve me well and lifelong friendships. Our Black student population in the ’80s may have been small, but more importantly, we were connected. JMU was an experience that confirmed that I belong in any space I choose. I will continue supporting efforts to increase opportunities for Black students to experience all that JMU has to offer.

- President of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, Lambda Chi chapter; The Breeze staff; Gospel Choir

Anthony Bowman (’14)Anthony Bowman (’14)

What I enjoyed most about JMU was the vast number of opportunities that I was able to be part of while here. Being a Music major, including being in the Marching Royal Dukes, allowed me to grow a lot musically. Being part of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and Contemporary Gospel Singers allowed me to grow in my faith and with friends. I loved going to JMU football and basketball games, as well as being a First yeaR Orientation Guide, to grow in my university spirit. And I loved just the general energy of the university and my time there.

- Various JMU School of Music ensembles, Marching Royal Dukes, Pep Band

Arnella Terrell (’82)

This university has had a tremendous impact on me. I met phenomenal people, got involved in campus activities and gained a great education. I continue to support the university and visit often. I am a former member of the JMU Alumni Board of Directors. I am currently a member of Women for Madison, an organization designed to enhance the collective involvement and financial impact of women giving to JMU. I am also a member of the Duke Club. A die-hard JMU football fan, I rarely miss a Homecoming weekend. The people, past and present, help make JMU a very special place.

- President of Delta Sigma Theta sorority, Iota Alpha chapter; Honor Council, Black Student Alliance

Brittany Asante (’18)Brittany Asante (’18)

I came to JMU with nothing, but I left with everything! JMU truly helped mold me to become the woman I am today. I chose to attend JMU because of its prestige and the environment I would be entering. JMU cultivated a lot of fundamental principles in my life that have certainly helped me a lot. I’m a first-generation college graduate, so my parents always pushed me for higher education. JMU is special, because the opportunities are endless and you can meet people who can build you up due to their grand experiences and wisdom.

- Secretary of African Student Organization, Delta Sigma Theta sorority

Diane Smith Butts (’84)Diane Smith Butts (’84)

In 1980, I was prepped to enroll in another university when I opened the letter to attend JMU’s Black Freshman Weekend. A few months later, I entered JMU as a Business major but changed to Communication Arts. I loved my classes and internships; I made great friends and learned so much about myself and my place in the world. I graduated in 1984, fully ready to explore the opportunities that came my way. My JMU experience was incredible, and fond memories still make me smile today. JMU was the perfect choice for me. I was right where I belonged.

- Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, WMRA and WVPT-TV intern

Francine Toliver Edwards (’91)Francine Toliver Edwards (’91)

I fell in love with JMU after attending a journalism camp in high school. A follow-up visit during Black Freshman Weekend sealed the deal. What I enjoyed most about my education is that much of what happened outside of the classroom was complementary to my coursework. The student organizations I was involved in, the peer and faculty mentors who invested in me, and engaging in community service helped provide a holistic view of my college experience. One of the greatest attributes of JMU is a sense of community and support. As a college administrator, I look at the best practices from JMU and work to implement them.

- Vice president of Students for Minority Outreach, reporter for JMU Today, Black Student Alliance

Ivaco Clarke (’10)Ivaco Clarke (’10)

I was initially concerned that my collegiate experience at a predominantly white institution would challenge my commitment to self-acceptance, suppress my identity and devalue my unique contributions. My Madison Experience proved otherwise. I was awarded countless opportunities to not only define my educational and career goals, but to also determine WHO I aspired to be while inspiring others to do the same. JMU provided a nurturing environment to openly express my passion, creativity, spirituality and sense of self-awareness. I graduated with the conviction that I’d find my place in the world and with optimism that the world would enthusiastically receive my offering.

- Black Alumni Chapter, executive board; Delta Sigma Theta sorority; president of Students for Minority Outreach

Jonathan Oliver Jr. (’12)Jonathan Oliver Jr. (’12)

I transferred to JMU, because the university offered prime educational and athletic opportunities. I enjoyed it so much — I learned how to be a student, made lifelong friendships and attained some of my grandest aspirations through campus engagement. I partied HARD, learned harder and made my own mark on Madison. In particular, I was surprised at how fully realized and diverse the Black JMU community experience was, coming from an historically Black college and university. The way that Black students and alumni open avenues to find their own place in our community is special. All of the food slapped too!

- Football, Omega Psi Phi fraternity, Alpha Kappa Alpha Talent Show

Janaye Oliver (’16)Janaye Oliver (’16)

JMU chose me. My transition into college was a little rough; my older brother went to JMU and my parents encouraged me to apply. By second-year, I was hooked. I loved the people I met and remain connected to. Everyone came from everywhere, yet a common thread unites us. I think the love for Harrisonburg, holding doors for others and randomly knowing I can yell “Go Dukes” speaks to how connected JMU alumni are. The support of the staff in my program as well as the Center for Multicultural Student Services kept me engaged. My JMU Family grows every time I meet a fellow Duke.

- Black Student Alliance, Delta Sigma Theta sorority, Students for Minority Outreach

Lauren Magruder (’13, ’15M)Lauren Magruder (’13, ’15M)

JMU wasn’t my dream school when I graduated from high school, but I was awarded the Dingledine scholarship and decided to attend. I loved everything about my experience. I learned so much about myself there. JMU provided me with a lot of growth as well. The family atmosphere that the students create is one of the things that makes it memorable. I stayed and ended up becoming a Double Duke! I have met my best friends and my husband here. JMU will always have a special place in my heart.

- Dingledine scholar, resident advisor, Delta Sigma Theta sorority

Lee T. Parker II (’86)

My cousin, Forrest Parker, convinced me to apply to JMU even though I actually wanted to attend an Historically Black College and University. Black Freshman Weekend changed my life. I grew up in Hampton Roads, Virginia, and had never been to the Valley. I was mesmerized by the beauty. I had a tremendous weekend, where I met lifelong friends who I interact with weekly. When I returned home from Black Freshman Weekend, I told my mother, “I think this is where I belong.” My Madison Experience was very special, setting the path for my legal career. JMU gave me friendships and memories that I treasure.

- Omega Psi Phi fraternity, Army ROTC, intramural sportsMelvin Brown (’93)

Melvin Brown (’93)

When I arrived on campus, I knew I wanted to attend JMU. Madison made an indelible mark on my life in so many ways and presented me with growth opportunities and experiences that I could never have imagined upon graduating from high school. It stays with me every day and had such a positive impact on my life. I made friends who became family and forged lasting relationships that will be with me for a lifetime. It also made me see my potential, even when I failed to live up to it. I am so thankful for my four years.

- Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, Students for Minority Outreach, Black Student Alliance

Monyette L.F. Martin (’93, ’94M)Monyette L.F. Martin (’93, ’96M)

My experience at JMU has changed my life. As an only child and first-generation student, the Madison community became my village. I have also been a JMU employee for more than 20 years. In my position, I plant seeds allowing students to grow in the same manner that I did. The business of growing Dukes is a unique opportunity. My life has been changed and continues to be shaped for the better by JMU. I have the great pleasure of living my life’s purpose in an environment that continues to shape my life in amazing and positive ways!

- University History Committee, Women for Madison Executive Advisory Council and Amethyst Circle member, Black Alumni Chapter member and liaisonNicole Hicks (’12)

Nicole Hicks (’12)

My experience was a real one. JMU is a reminder that your reality is just that. YOUR REALITY. A reminder that you are unique within a world of endless possibilities, and your ability to adapt to unfamiliar situations and make the best of it is strengthened.

- Centennial Scholars, NAACP, Women of Color

Ron Burke (’85)

Ron Burke (’85)Receiving my acceptance letter from JMU is a moment I cherish. As a student, I enjoyed the academic challenges and social atmosphere. The campus became a second home. The groundwork I laid for four years was a springboard to a bigger world. One thing that stood out about JMU is its constant growth, from student body enrollment to infrastructure. I am happy to say that over the years, the name JMU has resonated from coast to coast. I often wonder what life would have been like had I NOT gone to JMU, and I always return to the thought that I’m glad I did.

- Student Government Association, president of Black Student Alliance, president of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity


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Published: Thursday, February 29, 2024

Last Updated: Wednesday, March 13, 2024

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