Signature Events & Traditions
In addition to the many events held at the House by our resident groups, we also hold number of annual traditions throughout the year, including:
Welcome Back Cookout
Typically held on Labor Day, the Afro-American Cultural Center (“the House”) hosts a welcome cookout for new and returning students to kick off the new year. This event informally introduces new students to the House, events, resources, and our resident groups, and brings together the House community across cultures and organizations.
Jubilee! New Student Welcome Ceremony
In 2002, Dean Pamela George and her staff created our first Black Convocation to formally welcome new students of African heritage and those significantly affiliated with the Afro-American Cultural Center in a culturally-affirming ceremony that marks the beginning of their time at Yale. In September 2017, Dean Risë Nelson revived this tradition and renamed it “Jubilee! New Student Welcome Ceremony. This joyful celebration formally introduces our new students to their campus and community support network and to the House’s history, values and traditions. During this annual ceremony, House student staff and organizational leaders offer a pin to each new student that is meant to remind the student of their pride for our cultural legacies and their connection to the House. *Registration is required for this event and starts in August.
Family & Friends Weekend
Every October, our students and their visiting families/friends are invited to an Open House at the Afro-American Cultural Center with staff and student leaders. Attendees are welcome to attend an informal reception and tour of the House to learn about our history as the the oldest and largest Black cultural center in the Ivy League. Throughout this weekend, some of the House’s resident groups, like Shades of Yale and Yale Gospel Choir, hold their signature events. All are welcome!
“The Game” & Thanksgiving Dinner with the Afro-American Cultural Center and YBAA
Nearly every year since 1875, Harvard’s and Yale’s football teams face off in November, which serves as Yale’s Homecoming Game, or simply “the Game.” Since 1945, the Game has been played in odd years at the Yale Bowl, during which the Afro-American Cultural Center hosts a tailgate that attracts nearly two thousand students, alumni, faculty, staff, and community members who wish to reconnect across the greatest football rivalry in the Ivy League to celebrate the brilliance and beauty of the African Diaspora. Over the weekend, key events are held at the House and around New Haven by the Black Student Alliance at Yale (BSAY), Yale African Students Association (YASA), Harvard African Students Association (HASA), Yale Black Men’s Union (BMU), Harvard’s Black Men’s Forum (BMF), and Yale’s Black Graduate Network (BGN). In even years, the House sends a bus of our students up to Harvard to enjoy the Game and friendly rivalry in Cambridge. Regardless of the year, the House also holds its annual Thanksgiving Dinner with the Yale Black Alumni Association during the Game weekend.
The Afro-American Cultural Center started this tradition in December 2016 to offer students a time to formally celebrate the end of the semester before leaving campus for a month of winter holidays and break.
The House’s Wellness Manager coordinates casual events during midterms and finals to give our students a break from studying. The goal is to just kick back, relax, and enjoy some good food and fun!
The Afro-American Cultural Center revived its annual MLK Poetry Slam & Open Mic in January 2016 for students to share their poems and artistry as related to the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, civil rights movements, and social justice issues. This past year, with the university’s three other cultural centers, we hosted the MLK “Voices of Hope & Resistance” Poetry Slam & Open Mic, named after Busboys & Poets’ Peace Ball, to offer a space for students, community members, and others to share their poetry and artistic expression to build intercultural solidarity and resilience together. The House also supports the University’s MLK Commemoration with different events that bring the campus and local communities together in the spirit of Dr. King.
Black History Month Programming
While the Afro-American Cultural Center celebrates Black history throughout the entire year, we also formally observe Black History Month (BHM) each February to honor the histories and contributions of people of African heritage to our university, our city, our nation, and our world.
The Afro-American Cultural Center hosts its annual BHM kick-off for all members of the university and local community. In addition to several events hosted by our resident groups, including the Black Solidarity Conference, which is the largest student-run Black Student Leadership Conference in North America. Since 1995, over 700 undergraduates of various races, religions, ethnicities, and communities from across the United States and Canada have attended this annual event to discuss issues pertaining to the African Diaspora. Through discussions, panels, networking, and social gatherings, students from across the country analyze issues affecting the Black/Afro-Diasporic community and explore solutions that can be implemented on their own college campuses. The Afro-American Cultural Center closes out the month with an annual trip to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture.
In 1926, historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life & History announced “Negro History Week” would be held in the second week of February, which coincided with Frederick Douglass’ birthday. In 1969, the same year that the Afro-American Cultural Center was established, the Black United Students and their advocates at Kent State University proposed to expand this to an annual celebration, and in February 1970, the first celebration of Black History Month was held at Kent State University. Educational institutions and Black cultural/community centers began recognizing this month as Black History Month, and in 1976, President Gerald Ford officially named February “Black History Month” and urged all Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” In 1987, the United Kingdom officially named October as its Black History Month. In 1995, Canada officially recognized February as Black History Month, and just in 2016, the Netherlands named October as its Black History Month.
Black Women’s Retreat
Since March 2016, the Afro-American Cultural Center at Yale has held an annual Black Women’s Retreat to offer attendees who self-identify as women the opportunity to recommit to radical self-love and self-care as they hold up our communities and to reconnect with one another as sources of encouragement and inspiration.
Bouchet Ball & Awards Ceremony
This formal gala celebrates the close of another successful academic year, and the award ceremony recognizes the achievements of the House’s undergraduate, graduate and professional students, faculty, staff, alumni and community partners who support the House’s mission and continue in the tradition of excellence of Edward Alexander Bouchet. Recognitions include:
- Rising Star Awards for a First Year College Student and a Graduate/Professional Student
- Awards for Excellence in Scholarship, Leadership, Service, the Arts, and Athletics
- Awards for Outstanding Students of Yale College and Graduate/Professional School
- Awards for Faculty Excellence, for Professional Achievement (staff/administrator), for Alumni Partnership, and for Community Partnership.
*Registration is required for this event and starts in February.
Born in 1852 in New Haven, Connecticut, Edward A. Bouchet became the first Black person to graduate from Hopkins Grammar School in 1870, at which he was also valedictorian. He was one of the earliest Black Americans to complete his bachelor’s degree at Yale College in 1874. Bouchet made history two years later, becoming the first Black American to earn a doctorate degree in the United States. At that time, Bouchet was the sixth person in the western hemisphere to earn a doctorate in physics. He was also the first Black American to be nominated to– and one of the first Black Americans to be elected to – the prestigious Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society. After earning his doctorate in physics, he taught at the School for Colored Youth in Philadelphia for more than 25 years. He died in 1918. His portrait hangs in the nave of Sterling Memorial Library.
Black Graduates’ Celebration
Since May 2000, the Afro-American Cultural Center at Yale has held its annual Black Graduates’ Celebration to formally recognize the achievements of our graduating Black students, and students who have enriched the House community, in a culturally-affirming ceremony that marks the end of their time at Yale. During this celebration, the House presents awards to acknowledge exceptional contributions, conduct the Donning of the Kente ceremony, and inducts our graduating students into the Yale Black Alumni Association.
- Professor Robert Farris Thompson ’55 GRD ’65 Award for Outstanding Research in the Advanced Study of Africa
- Professor John Blassingame GRD ’71 Award for Outstanding Research in African American History & Culture
- Arthur L Pulley ’53 LLB & Bernice Cosey Pulley ’55 DIV Research Award for the Advancement of Peace and Justice in the Americas and Africa
- Caroline Jackson Smith ’74 Leadership Award
- Janifer Lynn Lighten ’83 Leadership Award
- Willard “Woody” Brittain, Jr. ’70 Leadership Award
- Khalid Lum Leadership Award
- Leadership Award for Community Arts & Service Award
- Calvin Hill ’69 Excellence in Athletics & Service Award
- Outstanding Student Leader Awards (presented at Bouchet Ball, recipients serve as flagbearers)
*Registration is required for this event and starts in February.
Alumni Reunion Receptions
On the Saturday of each Yale College Reunion, the House holds a special reception for alumni and guests to reconnect before the official Reunion Weekend begins. We welcome you back to the House to catch up with old friends, to hear from current students about their Yale experiences, and to hear about what the House has been up to since your last visit.
We are incredibly proud that the House is the first and largest Black cultural center in the Ivy League. Every five years, hundreds return to the House to celebrate the significant contributions that members of our community have made to campus, to our country, and to the world. During our anniversary celebrations, we honor our forebears like House Founders Donald Ogilvie ’68, Armstead Robinson ’68, Glenn deChabert ’70, and Woody Brittain ’70. Exemplary community leaders who brought to life visions of a thriving Black community at Yale and New Haven and of a center that would facilitate our community’s success through scholarship, leadership, service, advocacy, pride, and solidarity. The anniversary also includes conference sessions that focus on range of topics: the arts, history, mentoring, spirituality, politics, business and philanthropy, and more. We close our anniversary events by presenting to the House’s trailblazers and other significant contributors and dancing the night away in celebration of the House’s rich history and bright future!
We will celebrate the House’s 50th anniversary throughout 2019-2020. Be sure to save the dates of April 17-19, 2020 for the final events! Stay tuned for details.