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U of D Jesuit celebrates 25 years of promoting racial unity with African-American service, education organization

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For more than a quarter of a century black students at the University of Detroit Jesuit High School have educated the entire student population and other schools on the African Diaspora and the African-American experience.

They took on that commitment after race relations in the US hit crisis mode following the March 1991 beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles. The problem wasn’t new, just intensified. Tension among the races had been difficult since the 1960s and some of that tension spilled into America’s schools.

U of D Jesuit was not immune. Black students there began to talk about their various experiences and wanted to share them with other students at their school and others.

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U of D Jesuit BASE reach out and engage the Detroit community.

Two students, Robert G. Bryant, Jr. and Damon Harvey, both from the Class of 1991, formed the Black Awareness Society for Education (BASE) with the help of faculty advisor, John Tenbusch. The goal of this new school service and education organization was to foster racial unity among U of D Jesuit students, metropolitan Detroit high schools, and the larger community.

“Racial tensions were high in the early 1990s,” says Herman M. Jenkins, Jr., its first president . “We felt it was necessary for there to be an organization to stand as the voice of the increasing black student population. We believed we could create racial unity through service activities and a shared educational experience in the larger metro Detroit community.”

And it has. Twenty-five years later, BASE is a thriving organization at the school and elsewhere.

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U of D Jesuit BASE students prepare lunches at a soup kitchen.

BASE held its first convention on February 8, 1992 and invited students from Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook, Farmington Hills Mercy, Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett, Detroit Mumford, and Detroit Renaissance high schools to discuss not only the racial tensions experienced at their schools but race relations in America overall. The turnout at the first convention far exceeded expectations and the movement grew.

Students from the other schools went back and formed BASE chapters at their schools.

“To see BASE still thriving to this day warms my heart,” says Bryant. “If you had told me, back then, that a dialogue by my fellow black classmates in the cafeteria would lead to a movement that has survived for 25 years and spread to other schools across metro Detroit, I would not have believed you. But it has and it continues to thrive. One day my son will attend U of D Jesuit and be a member of BASE, an organization his dad had a hand in founding, and his uncle, Christopher, was BASE president in 2004.”

To commemorate its twenty-fifth anniversary, a reunion for BASE alumni, black alumni, as well as, school alumni and supporters regardless of ethnicity, will be held at U of D Jesuit on Saturday, February 25 from 6:00 p.m. to 9:oo p.m. All alumni are invited. Click here for more information.

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Each year since 1992, U of D Jesuit has hosted its annual BASE convention during the month of February in honor of Black History Month. This year’s convention will take place on February 25 from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at U of D Jesuit High School.  Other high schools expected in attendance are Detroit Cass Technical, Detroit Renaissance, Detroit Collegiate Preparatory, Farmington Hills Mercy, Grosse Pointe South, Warren Regina, and West Bloomfield.

The keynote speaker will be Dr. Robert W. Simmons III, EdD, a 1992 graduate and vice president of innovation and strategy for the Campaign for Black Male.  In addition, there will be presentations from students and alumni on current events.

Senior high school students Thomas Barrow and Christopher Pizana and juniors Cameron Green and Bishara Randolph make up the leadership team of this year’s BASE.

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“The best way to implement change is through ongoing civilized dialogue on the difficult issues facing our society,” says Barrow.

BASE does indeed provide leadership to young people in metro Detroit and has empowered many to be agents of change who work to rid our region of ethnic stereotypes and unify all people.

It’s making a difference.

“I encourage more white students to participate in BASE because it is very important to our school,” says senior-year student Ian Mulhern. “BASE is incredibly important to how I view social issues.”

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