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Refurbished black cultural center celebrated by overflow crowd

Feb. 2, 2005, 2:13 PM

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center at
Vanderbilt University will make Vanderbilt “better and bigger in
spirit,” said Chancellor Gordon Gee, capping an evening of music, art
and celebration to mark the center‘s rededication.

“The Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center stands in tribute to
the legacies of opening and risk,” Gee said on Tuesday evening,
“especially to the legacies of African Americans who came to Vanderbilt
during the years when Vanderbilt was not the easiest place to be.”

An overflow crowd of more than 200 people toured the center, which has
undergone a $2.5 million renovation that doubled its size to more than
8,000 square feet and added a seminar room, computer lab, art gallery,
catering kitchen and more.

The Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center, in the heart of the
Vanderbilt campus, was dedicated in 1984 in memory of the first African
American student admitted to Vanderbilt in 1953. The center builds a
sense of community on campus and provides support services for African
American students.

Center director Frank Dobson said the refurbished center is
concentrating on legacies “in the belief that the struggles of the
past have laid the foundation for a promising future.”

A plaque was unveiled at the celebration to honor Bishop Joseph Johnson, who died in 1979.

“My father once told me that whenever anyone would ask him why he was
so confident, dignified and poised, he would tell them that he was
standing on the shoulders of his ancestors,” said Patricia
Johnson-Powell, the daughter of Bishop Joseph Johnson, who attended the
rededication with her brother, Dr. Joseph Johnson III.

“Today we stand in a place forged from the will and determination of
this proud and dignified man. May each of us in all of our endeavors be
deserving of the ennobling legacy my beloved father has left behind.”

Guests were treated to music by Vanderbilt Voices of Praise and
colorful art by Khamisi Leonard and Shannen Hill, much of it
celebrating African-American achievements in music. African artifacts
recently donated by Vanderbilt Law School alumnus Lewis “Scotty”
Greenwald were also on display.

The rededication served as the kickoff to Black History Month
activities at the center, including a lecture series, free films and a
panel discussion on black issues.

“We do not just appreciate legacies,” Gee said. “We participate in
them. We respond to them. We are all the inheritors of what others have
fought for and sacrificed so much for. …They have left a great amount
of light in the world because of the effort they have spent breaking
through the darkness.”

Media contact: Jim Patterson, (615) 322-NEWS

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