[UPDATE ALERT: Earlier this month I posted a tribute to Black History month featuring how proud I was to be a first at my alma mater’s Homecoming Court as their first black Homecoming Queen in 1990. Well it turns out…I am not. Like any ‘epic’ Colleen Coll story, there’s always drama. A tale of two women of color ‘stripped’ of their regal rights BUT ends in a typical fairy tale fashion with a new found connection, and a hope for truth and justice to counteract future ‘Oops! My bads’.]
Letter to Mary Morgan, Assistant VP of IUP’s Office of Alumni and Friends, February 20, 2021:
Happy Black History Month! And, kudos to the Alumni Association’s “Crimson Couples” Valentine’s campaign celebrating Alumni love. I’m a big fan of romance.
As a proud graduate, I will always be grateful to have had the support by so many IUP staff from a diverse number of departments and organizations including the Student Government Association, Alumni Office, Black Cultural Center, Student Union, Greek Council and, my fave and major, our Journalism department.
Which brings me to my current dilemma…
At the beginning of this month, I shared this post on social media celebrating a historic landmark in my life and what I thought was also groundbreaking for the University:
I was wowed by the 205 reactions (likes, loves, cares) and 59 comments from friends and families who expressed their feelings of pride because of this accomplishment, first Black Homecoming Queen of IUP crowned in 1990, that was made official 10 years ago in 2011 by the University Archives. See email below:
This was one of the best days of my life and one that I’m tickled to know that my son loves to brag about. The purpose of the post was not only to celebrate a first but to hope, with the current state of the world, that there will be reason to celebrate many, many more. It is high time we begin to historically focus on turning firsts into many.
A day later, a friend and fellow IUP alumnus sent me a message that changed my world: I was not the first. I was one of a few. But not the first. The first (see the fuzzy attachment he sent of the Indiana Gazette article below) he told me was crowned in 1980.
After my ego dump (SEE WINE AND THIN MINTS PIC) of not being a first anymore (yes, there are some accolades that I do enjoy associated with historic ‘royalty’), I decided to use my hard earned skills learned from my beloved university to dig deeper.
Yeah. So many emotions going through my head, still. The one that seems to linger the longest is disappointment. Major. Disappointment. With a side of mortification.
This is where you come in. So…WHY? Seriously. WHY? I hope you can empathize and understand my disappointment (with a tinge of anger) when you read, like I did for the past 20 days over and over again, the email sent by Mary Jo Lyttle via Harrison Wick’s ‘research’.
Was there a concerted effort to find out if I was the first? How could they have missed what was clearly a major historic landmark for the borough, township and university of Indiana, PA? TEN YEARS APART!
There is a good thing. No. A GREAT thing. Wait, I take that back. A FANTASTIC thing that came out of this. I located the true Queen and she is now my friend. Turns out, she posted the same historic moment she shared ON THE SAME DAY I learned of the misapprehension — not knowing that I existed (and she is FB friends with my uncle, another IUP Alum…small world.).
In the short time I’ve had to get to know her, Donna Reaves is a true Queen in more ways than one. Accomplished. Poised. Welcoming. Supportive. And a staunch advocate of Black History and the Black Experience, particularly for IUP’s BEAC (Black Experience Alumni Committee). And, why not? She lived it.
As IUP’s Homecoming Queens, we found through conversation that running for the crown in 1980 and 1990 was not the regal experience we had hoped. Folks from each side of the coin (black and non-black) gave us both side-eye and ‘silly negro’ vibes. The Homecoming parade officials I met on Philly street hours before the parade insisted that I was mistaken and blatantly ignored my attempts to convince them that I was indeed the Queen and not Miss Black IUP. And, my late mother, bless her beautiful soul, wouldn’t let go of the firm grip she had on my hand sans the bouquet of red roses. Where she grew up was in an even smaller town only miles away. And, Indiana and Punxsutawney, PA had active chapters of the Ku Klux Klan back then. Being a first or black anything in such a large crowd that day made her nervous.
IUP has so many stories to tell. And, Black History should be at the forefront. I’d like to believe that the Harrison Vicks and Mary Jo Lyttles of IUP would think so too. Donna and I only scratch the surface. What about the other firsts and the current many?
These firsts are important to the individuals and to the entire university community and should be diligently honored with accuracy and accolades. Please pay close attention to historic firsts as well as the many to come to honor and continue to improve the Black experience for all alumni now and in the future.
I can go on and on (and I will for the rest of my life) about this experience because it is what I like to call a/an (insert an English or American author that best fits…Shakespeare, Dickens, Walker, Morrison?) tragedy transmuted into a fairy tale with happily-ever-after vibes. So what do we do about the sequel? A new chapter, if you will? Our history is your history.
We both deserve it.
And IUP Alumni deserve better.