May 13, 2009
Notre Dame, Ind - In 1947 Frazier Thompson broke the color barrier at Notre Dame paving the way for close to 500 black student-athletes who have followed. As a part of this year's Blue-Gold Weekend, the Monogram Club welcomed 100 black Monogram winners and their families for the 60th Anniversary of Black Student-Athletes Celebration.
The celebration got underway on Friday night, with a reception on the fifth floor of the press box at Notre Dame Stadium. To open the weekend, Rev. Edward A. Malloy, C.S.C., Notre Dame President from 1987-2005, offered remarks to all former black student-athletes and their guests in attendance.
"Having had a vivid and exciting experience of integrated athletics in high school, I came to a Notre Dame that was pretty much monochromatic." Malloy said, "Over the years I have seen wonderful transformations take place in the life of this institution. Nobody wants to claim that things have ever been perfect here; there have been struggles individually and collectively. There have been moments of tension and pain yet despite it all you can come back to an institution that is thriving both academically and athletically."
On Saturday morning, an audience of approximately 200 filled the Browning Cinema in the DeBartalo Performing Arts Center for a town hall meeting. The topic discussed was "The State of the Black Student-Athlete."
Panelists included, vice-president and associate provost Dr. Don Pope-Davis, admissions counselor Christina Brooks, Notre Dame sophomore basketball player Tyrone Nash, assistant athletics director Charmelle Green, athletics director Jack Swarbrick, and assistant men's basketball coach Anthony Solomon. The two-hour discussion, hosted by Dr. Frances Shavers, chief of staff in the office of the president, featured opening remarks from University President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.
The panel discussed a variety of issues that are facing current black student-athletes, including the admission of black students into Notre Dame, life as a current black student-athlete, the struggles and stereotypes facing blacks at Notre Dame and how Notre Dame is moving forward in its efforts to get past the stereotypes. Members of the panel also shared personal experiences they have encountered dealing with race at Notre Dame.
Culminating the weekend celebration, a formal dinner was held Saturday in the Joyce Center concourse. The event began with an eloquent dialogue by Marvin Lett, '87 soccer, chairman of the 60th Anniversary Weekend Celebration. Lett discussed a variety of topics, including the sacrifices made by the first black athletes to break the color barrier, extraordinary achievements by black athletes who have gone on to do great work after their athletic careers have ended, and the influence former Notre Dame President Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C. had in breaking through racial barriers.
"The 60th Anniversary Committee put together a special program for this event." Lett said, "Its a good meld of the past, present and future of this impressive fraternity gathered here tonight. Its a fraternity of men and women who have done and continue to do remarkable things."
After the crowd of over 300 enjoyed a steak dinner, keynote speakers Tim Brown `87, and Phyllis Stone `80 addressed the audience. Brown, a recent inductee into the College Football Hall of Fame, was the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy for the Irish. Stone, currently a member of the Notre Dame Board of Trustees, was the first African-American cheerleader in Notre Dame history.
Each spoke on a wide range of subjects including, what led them to Notre Dame, life lessons learned during their time at the University and how Notre Dame prepared them to be successful in all aspects of life dealing with people from all races.
"I learned from all the guys who came before me." Brown said, " I am here tonight the total person because of the people I met here at the University. Both black and white, male and female, my experience here, when I look back on it now, was once in a lifetime and I feel very lucky to have had it."
"This type of event is long overdue in my mind and I hope it is not the last time we are together for this type of event." Stone said, "This is a trailblazing event from what I have been able to gather. Other predominantly white schools do not even know who their first black student-athlete was. For us to know that, and to be able to come back and celebrate it together, it is truly remarkable."
Following Stones speech, Buster Lopes, Monogram Club advisor, presented a $5,000 check on behalf of the Monogram Club to the Frazier Thompson Scholarship Fund. The scholarship is awarded annually to Notre Dame students who exemplify excellence in academics and service to the African-American and Notre Dame communities. Accepting the check on behalf of the scholarship fund was the son of Frazier Thompson, Paul Thompson.
"I can not tell you how it feels. The emotions just run since this weekend celebration started." Thompson said, "Coming here tonight and this being part of his legacy I am just so proud of him and everyone in this room."
After Thompson's heartfelt speech, junior Defensive End Moorice Richardson closed the evening with a benediction. Richardson thanked all the black student-athletes who have come before him at Notre Dame before ending the evening in prayer.
On Sunday morning, the 60th Anniversary of Black Student-Athletes weekend concluded with a prayer service in the rotunda of the Main Building. University President Rev. John I. Jenkins C.S.C. presided over the hour-long service with the Rev. Hugh Page, dean of First Year Studies, providing the sermon.
The theme of Dr Page's message encompassed the weekend at its best.
If it weren't for the tenacity and grace under fire of Frazier Thompson 60 years ago, Notre Dame would not be what it is today and it is our job to use our spiritual gifts and talents to make the world a better place.