‘Paving the way, leaving a legacy’

Image of Mandela Barnes in front of the U.S. and Wisconsin flags.Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes was the keynote speaker at this year’s sold out Reflections of Ebony event.

Two UW-La Crosse alumni honored at Reflections of Ebony

UW-La Crosse students of color honored two UW-La Crosse alumni who have paved the way for future generations of students during this year’s Reflections of Ebony event Feb. 23. The UWL student organization Black Student Unity (BSU) organized the sold-out event that attracted about 380 people and featured a keynote presentation from Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes. 

Thomas Harris, ’01

At the event, Thomas Harris, ’01, assistant director of UWL Multicultural Student Services, was honored for paving the way. Shaundel Spivey, ’12, college connections manager at Western Technical College, was honored for leaving a legacy.

UWL Junior Amber West, vice president of BSU, says Harris has been a pioneer for UWL’s Office of Multicultural Student Services.

“He does so much for students whether helping them find jobs or leadership and development opportunities,” she says. “And he has done so much for this campus and the community from helping with the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Celebration to the White Privilege Conference.”

Shaundel Spivey, ’12

Spivey, a former member, president and advisor of BSU, has continued to stay connected to the organization after graduation, offering support, community connections and returning every year for Reflections of Ebony, says West.

He has played an important role in connecting BSU with local K-12 students. He connected West with students at Central High School who had the goal of starting an organization similar to BSU. Spivey also linked BSU with middle school and high school students through the Black Youth Summit, an annual event he created. This presented the opportunity for both groups to mentor each other, says West.

Spivey’s leadership within the community has also included younger children and adults. He created an organization of black community leaders, Black Leaders Acquiring Collective Knowledge (B.L.A.C.K). This group raised more than $70,000 to sponsor a week-long trip for black and multi-racial youth to travel to historically black colleges universities, and visit cultural attractions in Washington, D.C.

This is not the first time Spivey or Harris have been recognized. They are both known widely at UWL and in the larger community for their work paving the way and leaving a legacy. Spivey recently received the community’s 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Award. Harris has received that and other community awards. Most recently, he received the Parker Distinguished Multicultural Alumni Award. This award recognizes outstanding UWL alumni who have contributed greatly to improve multiracial culture and understanding on campus and in their careers.

The annual Reflections of Ebony event celebrates black students and African American culture during Black history month. Barnes, who gave the keynote presentation, is the first African-American lieutenant governor in Wisconsin. Barnes’ message resonated with many BSU executives and members who are now taking on leadership opportunities on campus, says West.

 “To hear Mandela Barnes tell us that he can do it and we can do it too was empowering,” she says. 

Reflections of Ebony also serves to recognize the accomplishments of BSU.

“I love going because each year it is nice being around people who support Black Student Unity and it is great hearing from our guest speakers,” says UWL Junior Kemmesha Thomas, Black Student Unity events coordinator and community liaison. “It is definitely something I will come back for once I graduate from UWL.”

Money raised from ticket sales supports Black Student Unity so the group can attend conferences and organize future events. A portion of the proceeds will also support a new scholarship being created for women of color.