After 40 Years, Af-Lat-Am Reconnects With Its History and Alumni

As Af-Lat-Am turns 40, the club plans to draw back alums and revamp its supportive role. The Afro-Latino-American Society (Af-Lat-Am), Phillips Academy’s affinity organization for minorities on campus, plans to draw back alumni and speakers in the coming years. The 40-year celebration kicked off with an ice cream social last Tuesday in CAMD. Attended by over 30 students and faculty, the event was a chance for new members to get acquainted and for the board to announce the club’s plans, said Okyeraa Ohene-Asah ’09, President of Af-Lat-Am. Ohene-Asah said that she sees this year as an opportunity to build on the club’s “rich legacy” through continuing its mission of cultural exploration and providing support for African American and Latino students at PA. The board will also reach out to Af-Lat-Am-affiliated alumni. “A lot of this year is about linking past generations to this one,” Ohene-Asah said. Their main event this year will be a black and Latino alumni gathering from April 3 to 5, Ohene-Asah said. Multiracial CNN news anchor Soledad O’Brien is scheduled to serve as keynote speaker at the alumni weekend, which will also include a career panel and several casual social gatherings. “The organization meant so much to [the Af-Lat-Am-affiliated alumni],” said Linda Griffith, Dean of CAMD. “They are very enthusiastic about connecting with the kids.” However, Christopher Auguste ’76, a member of the Alumni Council and President of Af-Lat-Am during his time at Phillips Academy, said that some black and Latino alumni “didn’t have a good experience at [Andover].” When he helped to put together a black and Latino alumni reunion several years ago, some of his classmates were reluctant to return to campus. “It’s good to get them back on campus, though, because we can get them to come back and see how much better the school is addressing issues of diversity than they did back then,” he said. Af-Lat-Am was founded in 1968, at a time when race relations in America were in extreme flux, said Ruth Quattlebaum, School Archivist. Frank Eccles ’43, Instructor in Math, was the first faculty advisor. He acted as a “catalyst from the faculty side,” responding to the needs of students of color, Quattlebaum said. “[Andover in the 1960s and ’70s] was not the school you know [today,]” said Elwin Sykes, Instructor in English and former faculty advisor to Af-Lat-Am. “This was an all-boys school in the late ’60s and early ’70s. [Af-Lat-Am]’s purpose was social and cultural. It attempted to be a place for kids with a lot in common to congregate at a place where they were not the majority,” he said. “We had the second floor of this building and a library and people could just come and hang out and escape Andover for a period of time,” Auguste said, referring to the Peabody Museum annex that has since burned down. “In that period when there were not any more than 20 or 25 black or Latino students, it was viewed as a way for the black and Latino kids to get together and give each other moral support.” Mr. Sykes said this desire for support among African American and Latino students led in part to the founding of CAMD in 1988. As the population of students of color has increased, Af-Lat-Am has also changed in composition. In recent years the organization has become more geographically and socioeconomically diverse. Mr. Sykes said that when he was faculty advisor in the ’70s, the vast majority of black and Latino students were from Northern urban backgrounds. Almost all were on full scholarship through A Better Chance, a talent identification program geared toward students of color. There are now more students of color coming from middle and upper class backgrounds than there were in the past, Quattlebaum said. Af-Lat-Am’s goals and purpose have changed over the years as well, said Mrs. Sykes, who has been involved with Af-Lat-Am since her arrival at Andover in 1973. Mrs. Sykes said the club was originally geared exclusively toward black and Latino students. “White students weren’t particularly invited,” she said. This began to change in the ’90s, when Af-Lat-Am began to explicitly invite people from other segments of the community. Sykes said, “That was at a time when there were a lot of questions about the divisiveness of affinity groups, about whether it was a good thing or counterproductive to have groups or organizations built around a particular characteristic like ethnicity.” She continued, “People started to say ‘You don’t have to be X to join this group. You don’t have to be Muslim to join [Muslim Student Union]; you don’t have to be black to join Af-Lat-Am.’” Recent boards have focused heavily on outreach, Griffith said. “We’re trying to be inclusive.” Sykes said several white students have served on the board of Af-Lat-Am in recent years. The organization now plans to focus more on the support aspect the club was originally intended to address. The current board plans to establish a “Big-Brother/Big-Sister” mentoring program for students of color at PA. “This is what my senior year is going to be about,” said Ohene-Asah. “I want to make sure the legacy stays strong and that we’re around for another 40 years plus.”