February 15, 2015

Black Alumni Network

Family. Inclusivity. Welcoming. These are just a few words that represent what the NYU Black Alumni Network (BLA) is to its members and communities. Learn more about the NYU alumni club and the experiences of some of the members, as well as why and how alumni can get involved.

“There are many moments that give me an extreme amount of pride, but one of them has to be traveling to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.,” says co-president of the NYU Black Alumni Network Jessica-Brittany (JB) Smith (she/her/hers) (TSOA ’14), when asked about an event of which she was most proud. “Seeing the [Black alumni] community experience their history in such a visceral space and in communion with one another across different generations was so special and something I’ll never forget.”

The NYU Black Alumni Network (BLA) was created in 2016 as part of an expansion of the NYU Multicultural Alumni Network, representing a renewed commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion at NYU as a university priority under NYU President Andrew Hamilton. With support from the NYU Alumni Association, BLA seeks to empower, connect, and celebrate the Black community within the greater New York University network.  

In celebration of Black History Month, we asked a few members of BLA’s leadership team to share more with fellow Violets about who they are as a group, how they’ve evolved since their inception in 2016, and how other alumni can get involved. 


How long have you been part of BLA and why do you continue to show up?

Jessica-Brittany (JB) Smith (TSOA ’14), Co-President (she/her/hers): I began volunteering under the umbrella of the Multicultural Alumni Group in late 2014, and then co-founded NYU BLA in 2016. I continue to show up because our community calls for it. There is a need for Black people at NYU to feel seen, heard, and felt. Until that need is met, I will always be around.

Michelle Van-Ess Grant (STEINHARDT ’03) (she/her/hers): I’ve been involved with the NYU BLA from the start. I am a former NYU Multicultural Alumni co-chair. I’ve seen this group evolve over the years and I’m so happy I’ve been there every step of the way.

We have formed a family of like-minded folks that have one goal in mind—to connect Black alumni with one another. I’ve been around so long, you can say I’m the “grandma” of the group.

Tara Bowser (SSSW ’14) (she/her/hers): I have been with BLA since June 2019. My first official event was the NYU Black Graduation. I jumped right in, helping to encourage future Black alumni to join our mailing list. 

What are some of the ways the NYU BLA has evolved since its inception?

JB Smith: NYU BLA continues to evolve with each season. Whether it be our involvement within our community, supporting our own board, or assessing our values, we are constantly evolving.

Michelle Van-Ess Grant: We’ve evolved the way in which we see programming. Over the years, JB and [co-president troziel] have been intentional about who is involved and the impact BLA programming has on the community at large.

What are some of the events or initiatives that you’re most proud of?

Tara Bowser: I love our yearly soirée event. The last one had the perfect mix of food and fun. It was great to see folks relax and enjoy themselves. All of our events have been a great way to come together, have fun, and build connections.

Michelle Van-Ess Grant: I am really proud of the toy drive we continue to do over the years. It’s been a long standing tradition that’s been passed down from administration to administration.

Are there any exciting events or programs coming up for your fellow Violets to look forward to?

JB Smith: Our program, Your Unstoppable Greatness Book Talk & Movement Workshop, for NYU’s BeTogether Alumni Conference will be one for the books!

What are some of the ways folks can show support or be involved with Black History Month? 

JB Smith: Show up for Black people within your community and outside of it. In big ways and in small ways, it all counts.

Cody Reid (SPS ’14): Attend BLA events and connect with all of our wonderful alumni.

What would you like the NYU alumni community to know about the NYU BLA

JB Smith: We are a group that hosts identities of all different backgrounds and ages. We welcome all who are seeking community.

Tara Bowser: We have an amazing vibe. I felt immediately welcomed when I joined the board and if you attend our events, you will see a group of people who care about the Black NYU community and care about each other.

Cody Reid: NYU BLA creates a community that encourages everyone to be their authentic self. 

Do you have any stories you want to share about your time and experience since joining the NYU BLA?

JB Smith: I never thought I’d find true communion with academic leaders, and those have thus far been my guides in this work. Leaders such as Dr. Lisa Coleman and Allen M McFarlane—I am immensely grateful for their support, advocacy, and heart.

Cody Reid: BLA’s Juneteenth web event during the pandemic was really refreshing. Each attendee wrote a letter to their future self and it was amazing. Since that event I’ve felt more connected to roots and am proud of who I am. 

What do you hope to accomplish within NYU and what impact do you want to have on the wider community?

JB Smith: I hope and aim for Black folks at NYU to feel at home in the legacy they’ve established. 

troizel xx (TSOA ’17, ’22), Co-President (we/they/she): With all of my time at NYU, I have hoped to create spaces for Black folks to gather, celebrate, and learn together. BLA has been a major leg in that journey. Our community is so wide and diverse that the club gets to function as a launching pad and a resting place for our alumni, new and old. If BLA can be anything, I hope it can be a model for how to gather around sameness and difference in ways that feel sustainable, accessible, and joyful. 

Tara Bowser: I didn’t know about BLA when I was attending NYU and for some time thereafter. There are many alumni I meet who have not heard of us still. I hope to make our presence become more known throughout the NYU community.

How can alumni get involved with the NYU BLA? 

JB Smith: Sign up for our listserv (Communication Preferences > Affinity Clubs > Black Alumni Network) and say hey by dropping us a line via email at alumni.bla@nyu.edu!

troizel xx: Come to events! Propose events you’d like to happen. Volunteer. Connect us with the organizations you love and care about.