Published February 27, 2023 by Rebecca Goldfine

Black History Month's Celebration of Black Resilience

Each year, Bowdoin organizes a slate of programming for Black History Month that includes a diverse line-up of events. This year the theme was Black resilience, and while serious issues were examined and discussed, there was much to celebrate as well.

Black History Poster 2023
Black History Month poster

This year's line-up of events included the following: 

A Quick Look at Some of the Happenings:

On February 3, Renee Montgomery spoke with two student moderators about her career, philanthropy, life, and activism. A former WNBA professional basketball player, Montgomery is currently vice president, part-owner of, and investor in the Atlanta Dream, as well as one of three owners of the Fan Controlled Football (FCF) Beasts indoor football team.

Her visit was sponsored by LEAP—Bowdoin's Leadership and Empowerment through Athletic Principles initiative, which was founded in 2015 in part to engage Bowdoin's athletic community in important issues facing society.

Renee Montgomery with student moderators on Kresge stage
Renee Montgomery traveled to Maine on February 2 to engage in a moderated Q&A with field hockey goalkeeper Julia Arsenault ’23 and women’s tennis captain and president of the Athletes of Color Coalition Kennedi Carter ’23.

Montgomery spoke in Kresge Auditorium with Julia Arsenault ’23 and Kennedi Carter ’23 about the connections she's made between her career and social change.

In response to a question about how she holds productive conversations about race, Montgomery noted, "It's very common for me to be in a boardroom where I'm the only Black person and there are no other women." If someone says something racist, she doesn't "freak out," but rather waits for a good moment to address it.

"When it is time, I'll try to educate. You can be informative without attacking people," she said. "Racism is a learned behavior," and it can be unlearned, she added. 

And though we still have far to go as a society, Montgomery said she's seeing progress. Just a few years ago, she pointed out, pro athletes were penalized for protesting or speaking out about police brutality. Today it is almost unthinkable to censor an athlete in that way. "I see actionable, changeable growth," she said.  

Black Solidarity Conference at Yale

Bowdoin students were thrilled to attend the annual Black Solidarity Conference this year.

Alumni career talks

For the first time for Black History Month, the Bowdoin College Black Alumni Association (BCBAA) invited two accomplished alumni to speak about Black resilience in their careers.

“We’re excited the BCBAA is hosting its inaugural set of Black History Month events this year,” said Director of Multicultural Alumni Engagement Joycelyn Blizzard. “Black alumni are proud to highlight two of their own who have made invaluable contributions to their fields.” 

On February 6, Eric Hollister Williams ’99 was interviewed by Selina Asante Poku '07 and Diamond Walker '17 in a virtual event. Williams, who works in corporate PR at Apple, has over twenty years of experience working for corporations, foundations, and nonprofit organizations.

His résumé includes a stint on Capitol Hill, where he spent nearly two years with the US House of Representatives as staff director for the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Global Human Rights. He has worked with international organizations like Washington, DC,-based Precision Strategies and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. More recently he was director of communications at the outdoor clothing retailer Patagonia, overseeing external and internal communications.

Eric Hollister Williams ’99 portrait
Eric Hollister Williams ’99

In the wide-ranging discussion, Williams shared that his first-year roommates have been part of his support network since the start of college. His social group resembled the United Nations, he said, as his friends came from around the world and represented many cultures. Through the years, they've remained close.

Williams also reflected that Bowdoin was like a launching pad to a fascinating and varied career. He gained the confidence to navigate a path in which he continues to seek out new challenges and jobs. Not unlike others in his generation, he said that he's changed jobs more frequently than older generations, requiring the ability to absorb work cultures quickly and make significant impacts as soon as possible.

Terri Young ’81 spoke online on February 23 in a conversation moderated by second-year medical student Rebkah Tesfamariam ’18 and Bowdoin students Jada Scotland ’23 and Foje-Geh Tendoh ’24.

Young is professor of pediatric ophthalmology and medical genetics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison's McPherson Eye Research Institute, where she is also chair of the department of ophthalmology and visual sciences.

She has directed a science research laboratory in gene-hunting of ophthalmic diseases for twenty-five years and has authored more than 220 peer-reviewed scientific publications, as well as multiple book chapters, articles, reviews, and media materials—many of which have garnered national and international acclaim.

When asked to give examples of how she practiced Black resilience at Bowdoin and after Bowdoin, Young listed several habits or beliefs she said are essential, including gratitude. "You need to know and feed your spiritual center, and do that every day, and in so doing, express gratitude and count your blessings every single day, both those that hurt you and those that move you forward," she said.

One thing she's grateful for is Bowdoin. "I have often said to those who would listen that Bowdoin was my biggest blessing," she said. The College supported her financially, professors served as important mentors, and she made lasting friends. Later, when she was at Harvard Medical School, she received a scholarship funded by a Bowdoin alumnus. 

"This made me realize how much Bowdoin was committed to me and how much they were committed to what I would do with what I was given," she said.

When Tesfamariam asked whether Young could speak about the impact being Black and a woman had on her medical career, Young said "Yes!" and laughed.

"There are times I almost refuse to acknowledge that," she started. Instead, she directs people to her accomplishments. "Just look at the work, look at the product, look at the success, look at the results. But it is omnipresent."

"What it means for us is you have to choose courage. You have to put fear aside. You’ve got to understand that you’re there for a purpose," whether that is in a boardroom or in a clinic with a patient questioning your skills.
"But if you always choose courage over fear you’ll be able to overcome that. We need to not play small—that doesn’t serve the world, and it doesn’t serve you. We’re all meant to shine, we’re all meant to give, we all have a purpose." Dr. Terri Young

For Laughter and Fun

In between the discussions and lectures, there was joy. Students started Black History Month off with good food and friends at a kick-off party at the Russwurm African American Center on February 3. Hosted by the Black Student Union, Africa Alliance, and the Student Organization for Caribbean Awareness, the party featured food by the Jamaican restaurant Yardie Ting, games, and music.

Chloe Hilliard poster

The following week, students and alumni—both beginners and advanced skiers—were invited to a day of skiing at Mt. Abram Ski Area in Greenwood, Maine, on February 11, sponsored by the Office of Multicultural Alumni Engagement.

For an aprés-ski event, those who skied and those who did not were all invited to Jack Magee's pub for a night of comedy with TV writer and author Chloé Hilliard, sponsored by the Center for Multicultural Life.

The night continued into the early morning with the Rep Ya Flag party, where students were encouraged to show off their national pride in a celebration of the countries in the African diaspora. 

On February 18, at the African Fashion Show, students displayed the beauty of African culture and clothing.

And on February 25, the month finished with a flourish at the annual Ebony Ball, open to all students. This year's theme was Mardi Gras, and the large crowd dressed for the occasion.