In the wake of George Floyd's murder last year and ensuing protests against police brutality across the United States, Maria Amendolia '92 reached out to her classmate Fred Givens. Her intention was clear: She didn't want Givens, a Black man, to educate her; she just wanted to start a conversation. The pair pulled in fellow Holy Cross friends and gathered virtually to talk about what was unfolding throughout the country. The confluence of police violence, social and political unrest, and the pandemic set the stage for the dialogue. "It was kind of the perfect storm," Givens says.
Following the conversation, Amendolia posted in the Holy Cross Class of 1992 Facebook group, sparking interest from fellow alumni, whom she invited to the next call. From there, the group has grown organically into what is now known as the Holy Cross Anti-Racism Alliance. Consisting of more than 90 members across class years rooted in their Jesuit education and tradition, the group convenes each month to engage in dialogue, education and action. The alliance's mission is to foster education through meaningful connections and conversations about racial justice, to improve the experience of students of color on campus, and to promote a safe and supportive campus by eliminating barriers caused by systemic racism.
The meeting structure varies month-to-month: Sometimes the alliance will invite a guest speaker, at others they will bring a topic to the table and then break out into small groups to discuss in a more intimate setting. For the December 2020 meeting, Kona Khasu '92 invited his friend Will Calhoun, drummer in the Black metal rock band Living Colour, to serve as a guest speaker. During the call, Calhoun shared his experiences both growing up in the Bronx and traveling the world as a musician. On another call, the alliance invited African-American members of the Class of 2020 to talk about their lived experiences at Holy Cross.
"I think that was a powerful moment that turned some eyes," Givens says. The conversation with recent graduates was also an important conduit for shared learning across class years, adds Len deMontagnac '92: "[They] are enlightening us as much as us being enlightened by each other."
While the conversations may feel raw and uncomfortable at times, they are an important means to examine the experiences that people of color live every day in America. For many, the alliance is also a space to acknowledge their own complacency when it comes to issues of race and how they have benefitted from their white privilege.
"I think these conversations have created an opportunity for us to come to terms with the fact that racism is our problem as white people. It is not something for those who have been oppressed to solve," Amendolia emphasizes. "As an example, during one of our recent calls, we posed questions to the group and asked: 'How do you feel about your white privilege? What does that mean to you? Are you willing to own that? And then what are you going to do with it to improve the situation in your neighborhood, your family, your country, our alma mater?' All of those things."
While the calls are a forum for education and dialogue, they are also intended to be a springboard to action. The alliance wants to avoid becoming an echo chamber and instead translate what members learn into their everyday lives — whether it be in the workplace, with friends or at home.
"This group is using all of the information, the knowledge and the skills you learn from academia to do something real about it," Givens says. Beyond that, the group endeavors to heed what they're hearing during these dialogues and take action to positively impact students of color at Holy Cross — an objective they have already moved toward on multiple fronts.
In December 2020, the group raised $10,000 in three weeks for the Bishop Healy Emergency Support Fund, which directly supports students of color at Holy Cross. The group has also assembled a list of alumni mentors — 15 people and growing — to serve as a resource for students of color who are in need of advice, support or simply a listening ear. This is particularly important for students who may be reticent to reach out to alumni or who don’t know what resources exist to help them with personal and professional development, organizers say.
A key denominator for the members is their desire to unite around their love for Holy Cross by living out the Jesuit charge of being "men and women for and with others."
"I think the core of who we are, we reach back into Holy Cross," deMontagnac says. "What motivates me with this group and a lot of my friends from Holy Cross, is there is an innate commitment to serve and promote justice across the board. There is a commitment to speaking out when you witness a false justice, when you witness something wrong." By uniting alumni across class years and geographic locations, the alliance seeks to have a meaningful impact on students at Holy Cross and beyond.
"This alliance is a prime example of how our alumni continue to learn, grow and live the mission long after their graduation at Holy Cross," says Amit Taneja, the College's associate provost for diversity, equity and inclusion. "This group exemplifies how we are never too late to come to a difficult conversation and to seek ways to work across divides."
Taneja says he is grateful for the work of the alumni in creating tangible support for today's students: "More than anything else the alliance gives me hope that we can, in fact, address systemic racism together."
Down the line, the group hopes to be more integrated in conversations about structural changes at the College and organize an on-campus student and alumni event when it's safe to gather in person. "This is organically done, and when we speak, we move, and we act. And it's that spirit in which we operate that makes us so powerful," says Phyllis Jones '95.
For more information on participating in the Holy Cross Alumni Anti-Racism Alliance, email info@CHARA1843.com.
Written by Mary Cunningham '17 for the Spring 2021 issue of Holy Cross Magazine.
About Holy Cross Magazine Holy Cross Magazine (HCM) is the quarterly alumni publication of the College of the Holy Cross. The award-winning publication is mailed to alumni and friends of the College and includes intriguing profiles, make-you-think features, alumni news, exclusive photos and more. Visit magazine.holycross.edu/about to contact HCM, submit alumni class notes, milestones, or letters to the editor.
Holy Cross Alumni Form Grassroots Anti-Racism Alliance
90+-person group focuses on dialogue, understanding and action