GSU celebrates Black history with ceremonial groundbreaking
Local and state officials, dignitaries attended the Feb. 25 event
Governors State University (GSU) is honoring the past, celebrating the present and inspiring future generations with a historic showcase of African American Illinoisans.
On a cold, sunny afternoon in February 2022 inductees of the Illinois Black Hall of Fame (IBHOF) and their loved ones gathered with state and local VIPs to celebrate Black excellence with a ceremonial groundbreaking. Invited guests were adorned in stunning African fabrics and crisp business suits in a scene reminiscent of an African American movie classic.
Amongst artwork and architecture, attendees mingled over light refreshments and watched a 2021 IBHOF induction video, which featured each of the first five inductees into GSU’s cultural showcase: Rev. Jesse Jackson, Dr. Timuel Black, Bessie Coleman, Harold Washington and Spencer Leak, Sr.
The physical showcase, which is slated for completion in June, will honor additional African American heroes as they are selected by the IBHOF, launched in 2021 to highlight the achievements of pioneers.
After thanking Alumna Ceola Davis Barnes ('75) , who received her master’s degree in Urban Teacher Education and who made the Illinois Black Hall of Fame possible, GSU President Dr. Cheryl Green acknowledged the lives and legacies of the five, who she said “changed the status quo.”
“These historians, activists, entrepreneurs, visionaries, refused to conform to the mold society caste for them as African Americans. In pursuing excellence in their respective fields, they blazed new trails and inspired generations to dream,” she said, adding that to recognize these individuals and others will serve as “a constant reminder to all students, faculty and staff, that here they are part of a rich legacy.”
Attorney Richard Boykin, the IBHOF Chairman, commented that the Southland “will never be the same” after the space, now plywood painted white, is completed.
“Once this museum gets in place, you will see more foot traffic at Governors State, you will see more young people coming to (GSU) and you will see more young people inspired by all of those being inducted into the IBHOF,” Boykin said. “Those young people will then take the reins of leadership and help to push us into the next phase we need to go in, in order to become a more perfect union.”
Jim Kvedaras, Secretary of the GSU Board of Trustees, also expressed excitement about the recognition the Hall of Fame will bring to the university. Its arrival will help GSU continue to stay true to its mission and goals, he said.
“We, as a public-serving institution, feel that it's part of our mission to raise awareness to the general public,” he said. “It starts discussions, starts conversations and continues momentum.”
U.S. Congresswoman Robin Kelly and Congressman Danny Davis, honorary Co-chairs of the IBHOF, offered their apologies for not being present for the event. Kelly phoned in and called the groundbreaking “a momentous occasion” for the South Suburbs and for GSU.
“This is history,'' said Kelly whose voice boomed from a cell phone's speaker. "Black history is American history.”
At the close of the event, inductees and guests participated in a toast. Each standing with a champagne flute in hand, they lifted a glass (of nonalcoholic libation) and their voices in chorus to exclaim ‘Black Excellence.’
Then, each inductee holding a golden hardhat and engraved hammer, posed for photos with the sunlight filtering from the atrium above. Standing in front of the future home of the IBHOF, these proud men and women were bearing witness to this day in Black history.
A Juneteenth gala will be held June 18, 2022 at Governors State to induct the 2022 class into the Illinois Black Hall of Fame.
View event highlights here.