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KU Alumni Association, Black Alumni Network honor alumni for achievements

Friday, September 11, 2015


LAWRENCE —​Twelve alumni are the 2015 recipients of the KU Black Alumni Network’s African-American Leaders and Innovators award. The network, sponsored by the KU Alumni Association, will honor them Saturday, Sept. 26, during its biennial reunion. Ten recipients will attend the event, and two will be honored posthumously.

The 10 scheduled to attend are: 

Nedra Patton Bonds, Kansas City, Kansas, who received her American studies degree in 1970;
Mickey Brown, Atchison, who earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1959 and his master’s degree in microbiology in 1965;
Ralph Crowder, Riverside, California, who earned his doctorate in history in 1995;
Nathan Davis, Bradfordwoods, Pennsylvania, who completed his bachelor’s degree in music education in 1960;
Cynthia Harris, Tallahassee, Florida, who completed her bachelor’s degree in biology in 1978 and her master’s degree in genetics in 1982;
Alferdteen Harrison, Jackson, Mississippi, who earned her doctorate in history in 1971; 
Erica Hawthorne-Manon, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a 2002 journalism graduate;
Audrey B. Lee, Paducah, Kentucky, who completed her bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1976 and her graduate degree in journalism in 1978; 
Julie Johnson Staples, Brooklyn, New York, who graduated in journalism in 1978; and
Evelyn Welton, Kansas City, Kansas, a 1949 graduate from the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences.

The two posthumous honorees are:
Bertram Caruthers Sr., who earned his bachelor’s degree from the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences in 1933 and his master’s degree in zoology in 1935
Alversa Milan, who completed her fine arts degree in 1955

The KU Black Alumni Network also will posthumously honor Michael E. Shinn, a 1966 KU engineering graduate who helped found the network and the Leaders and Innovators Project in 2006. The award will be renamed for Shinn, who died in March, and his wife, Joyce, of Highland Heights, Ohio, who will attend the event.  

The following is further information about the 12 recipients:

Bonds is an artist, civic activist and educator. Born into a family of quilters, she started quilting at age 6. As an adult, she has used her work to express her views. She has exhibited nationally and internationally, and her quilts are on display in prominent Kansas City locations, including the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. She also has participated in the AIDS Memorial Quilt and Quilts of Valor. Last fall, Bonds was inducted in Kansas City, Kansas, public schools’ Reasons to Believe Alumni Honor Roll. She continues to conduct workshops and classes for adults and children.  

Brown has served as a leader in his community for years. During his time in the Chicago area, he was involved in the local chapter of the NAACP and Community and Youth Development, an organization that provides mentoring programs for disadvantaged children. Brown is a life member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and participated in the Mu Mu Lambda chapter’s educational initiative “Go to High School, Go to College.” He has mentored high school boys and coached Little League baseball teams. As a scientist he has published several articles and earned recognition for his work with Abbott Laboratories, Argonne National Laboratory and Altria Group Inc. 

Crowder came to the university to pursue his doctorate in history. He received the George L. Anderson Award for Best Dissertation. He joined the history faculty at the University of California-Riverside and led the ethnic studies department as chair. He also served as a mentor for faculty and at-risk youths. In July 2012, he retired as professor emeritus. Crowder has widely published and presented his research on 19th- and 20th-century African-American history, Pan-African history and the Black Indian experience. His most notable books include “John Edward Bruce: Politician, Journalist, and Self-Trained Historian of the African Diaspora and Black History Month: Reclaiming a Lost Legacy.” 

Davis is a multi-instrumental jazz performer and educator. Growing up in Kansas City near Charlie Parker’s childhood home, he got an early education in local jazz from bandleader Jay McShann before coming to KU. After earning his degree in music education, Davis joined the military, studying at the Naval School of Music and playing in military bands throughout Europe. After his service, he became a stalwart of the lively Paris jazz scene, recording his first studio albums and building his performance career as a bandleader and a sideman to Kenny Clarke, Art Blakey and other jazz greats.

In 1969, Davis returned to the U.S. to found one of the nation’s first jazz studies programs, at the University of Pittsburgh. He launched the Annual Jazz Seminar, started an academic journal devoted to the scholarly study of jazz, and established the International Academy of Jazz-Hall of Fame, which preserves jazz artifacts in the Sonny Rollins International Jazz Archives. Davis received the BNY Mellon Jazz 2013 Living Legacy Award at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., for his contribution to jazz education and performance. He retired in 2013 to devote more time to composing and performing. 

Harris directs the Institute for Public Health at Florida A&M University. A Kansas City native, she earned degrees in biology and genetics from KU and completed her doctorate in biomedical sciences at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee. After a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University, she became the first African-American to serve as branch chief for the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a coordinating agency of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. 

She created the first doctoral program in public health in Florida, and she designed the online master’s degree program, a first for the university and among all historically black colleges and universities. Harris chairs the board of the Florida Public Health Association and the editorial board of the Harvard Journal of Public Health. She also serves as vice president of the Trust for America’s Health, and she serves on the Florida Sickle Cell Task Force and the National Science Advisory Board on Exposure and Human Health. 

Harrison was the first African-American to earn a doctorate from KU’s department of history, and she helped lay the groundwork for the university’s African and African-American Studies department. In 1972, she joined the faculty at Jackson State University in her home state of Mississippi and created the university’s academic program in public history, the first established among historically black colleges and universities. In 1977 she spearheaded the development of the Smith Robertson Museum and Cultural Center, the first state museum to highlight African-Americans in Mississippi. 

When famed poet and novelist Margaret Walker Alexander (1915-1998) retired as founder and director of Jackson State’s Institute for the Study of Life and Culture, Harrison transformed the institute into the Margaret Walker Alexander Research Center, a prominent museum and archives. Harrison received the 2012 Thad Cochran Humanities Award for her contributions to Mississippi history and culture.

Hawthorne-Manon has championed the arts in her community. As a poet and actor, she is popularly known as RhapsodE. She co-founded Spoken Soul 215, a collective of young artists, singers and poets who produce the Harvest Open Mic & Showcase Experience, a monthly event. Hawthorne-Manon also mentors aspiring artists in Campus Philly Open Arts program. In 2012, she received a Knight Foundation Challenge Grant and founded Small but Mighty Arts, a program that provides micro-grants to local artists. For her work, she received a Philadelphia DoGooder Award in 2013. 

As a journalist, Lee, worked on international media campaigns for Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Pope John Paul II and U.S. ambassadors. She also served on the faculty of the University of Louisville, Sullivan College and Paducah Community College. After earning her law degree from the University of Kentucky, she now works as a senior criminal defense attorney in the Paducah Trial Office for the Department of Public Advocacy. In 2012, she was recognized as the Woman of the Year by the Kentucky Federation of Business and Professional Women, and she received the Mayor’s Award of Merit. 

Staples has pursued varied careers in journalism, finance and the ministry. She is currently interim senior minister of the 116-year-old Flatbush-Tompkins Congregational Church. As a KU student, she was the first African-American editor of the University Daily Kansan. She eventually became the White House correspondent for the Baltimore Sun and The New York Times. In 1994, she earned her law degree from Georgetown University and went on to serve as the Justice Department correspondent for ABC News. She later began a career in international investing at Warburg Pincus and became the firm’s first African-American partner. Her career shifted again when she returned to graduate school to study theology and became ordained in the Congregational and American Baptist Church. She serves on the board of the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches.

Welton devoted her career to epidemiological and pediatric studies. She retired after 35 years as a medical technologist for the Veterans Administration. In her community, she advocates for older residents and leads the Center City AARP Chapter No. 1544 as president. She also serves on the city’s executive board of the NAACP. She is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and a founding member of the Kansas City chapter of the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Clubs. Welton is an active member in St. Paul Presbyterian Church in Kansas City.

Caruthers, who died in April 2002, led a 38-year career as a science teacher, principal, assistant to the superintendent and university professor in Kansas City. He secured funding for and implemented the first Career Education Program in the state of Kansas, which became a model for promoting vocational education. Caruthers served on the board of several organizations, including the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and the Wyandotte House. In 1985, he received the Distinguished Service Citation from the Alumni Association and the University. 

In 2002, Hawthorne Elementary School in Kansas City was renamed Bertram Caruthers Elementary School, and in 2005 he was inducted posthumously in the Kansas City Kansas Community College Endowment Association’s Mid-America Education Hall of Fame alongside his daughter, Patricia Caruthers.

Milan, who died in April 2014, led community programs for children and parents. She started her career as an occupational therapist at the VA Medical Center in Topeka and later served as assistant chief of domiciliary operations at the VA Medical Center in Leavenworth. 

As a Lawrence resident, she was an activist for racial integration and supported those who faced physical and economic challenges. In 1964 she helped establish the Children’s Hour, the city’s first racially integrated nursery school. She welcomed KU students into her home for mentoring, meals and tutoring, and served as the undergraduate adviser for her sorority. Throughout the 1960s, she served on the Lawrence Public Library board. She also co-founded the Lawrence Branch of Concerned Black Parents, a social justice organization that provided support for students at Lawrence High School. After moving to Kansas City, Milan helped establish the Mother to Mother ministry, which provides support and mentoring for disadvantaged mothers. In 2013, she wrote “Raising Children Is As Easy As 1. 2. 3.”

The KU Black Alumni Network has honored 41 African-American Leaders and Innovators since 2006. For information on previous winners and details of the Black Alumni Chapter Reunion Sept. 25-27, visit kualumni.org/blackalumni.