By Daniel Admasu, contributing writer
Sitting at the Elders’ Feet: An Oral Tradition of the African American Community returned Thursday to Towson University’s 2023 homecoming programming to feature the stories of Black Towson State alumni.
Eddie Diggs ‘79, Cassandra Yarbrough ‘82 and Jacqueline L. Banks talked about their experiences being students of color at Towson at the event, hosted by the Center for Student Diversity and held in the Union Auditorium.
Keiwana Perryman, associate director of the Center for Student Diversity, created the program, which debuted last year.
“I wanted our students to honor and recognize those folks and to really be able to physically see and touch and hear some of the stories from when our elders were students on this campus 30, 40 years ago,” she said. “And what better way to do that than to have them share their own story.”
Those stories were of the obstacles and hurdles faced and the impacts Towson had on their lives, as well as cultural shifts from then to now.
Banks was enrolled at Towson in 1973, but finished her degree at Salisbury State College in 1982. She was a part of Towson’s first Black cheerleading squad and the Black Student Union.
Involvement with BSU was the beginning of Banks’s training in civil rights, she said, and has stuck with her throughout her life.
“The leaders there was so in tune to civil rights activism, and they knew what to do when they saw something and they didn’t like [what] the administration had done, and they knew how to talk about it, address it,” she said.
Diggs, who has a physical disability, spent time as the manager of the basketball team. He said the position made it easier to be a student as the predominantly-Black team would treat him with respect.
“My experience here at Towson was one of the best experiences I could have dreamed of,” Diggs said.
Yarbrough praised Julius Chapman, the first dean of Minority Affairs from 1969-81, for providing Black students with valuable resources that helped them during their academic journey, including grants and work studies.
A university news article stated that prior to 1968, Black students accounted for less than 1% of enrollment. Chapman is honored on campus in the Dr. Chapman Quad outside the Media Center, where a bronze bust of him was unveiled in 2019, The Towerlight reported.
Yarbrough, who had a roommate whose father led the Ku Klux Klan in Maryland, said that she and other Black students formed a pack together in which they’d help each other out. They studied together, shared food and provided each other with textbooks and syllabi to ensure all of them would graduate.
“We coming out of here with our paper, and we’re coming out on time,” was the sentiment, she said.
Yarbrough turned to the students in the audience, encouraging their successes too.
“Know when we see your names rise, as we see y’all rise, we are cheering y’all on”, she said. “Know that not only are we cheering you all on, but if you see us, you know, grab us. We are happy to encourage you. We didn’t get this age without a network — use the network.”
Note: At the event, Banks said she graduated in 1983, but has informed The Towerlight that it was actually 1982. This article has been updated.