Black alumni of the George Washington University celebrated their own Saturday evening with the IMPACT Awards that capped off the 2023 GW Black Alumni Reunion Weekend, an annual gathering hosted by the GW Office of Alumni Relations and Annual Giving and GW Black Alumni.
Three Black alumni were honored and their vast achievements speak to the caliber of excellence found throughout the university’s Black alumni community, said Zena Chapman, Ed.D. ’06, chair of the GW Black Alumni Executive Committee.
“We looked at the impact to the GW community, at the impact in their own communities, and we also looked for innovation and service,” Chapman said, describing the selection process for the awards.
Honorees Jessica Jackson, M.A. '11, Monique Thornton, M.P.H. '17, and Maranda Ward, Ed.D. '17, have each made names for themselves as health advocates for vulnerable populations.
Jackson is focused on eliminating barriers to mental health as the founder of Houston-based Dr. J. Lauren Psychological & Consultation Services and co-founder of the nonprofit organization, Communicating Race Fully.
In accepting the honor, she thanked her mother for showing her early on the meaning of benevolence and giving back. Jackson said her success has been a collective endeavor. “When I think of impact, I think of the community and the village,” she said. “You can’t have an impact by yourself.”
Thornton started her public health communication and marketing consultancy, Let's Talk Public Health, to provide resources to enable public health students, professionals and organizations in the Washington, D.C., area to be better engaged. When she left her job to start her own venture, even her supportive mother questioned the move. Thornton said she had to unlearn placing limitations on herself.
“Sometimes we dream small, and we play it safe,” she said. “We have to make sure we are not buying into that and telling ourselves no.”
Ward, an assistant professor and director of equity in the Department of Clinical Research and Leadership in the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences, won one of the university’s highest teaching honors, the Morton A. Bender Teaching Award, for 2021. Her research focus includes diversity, equity, inclusion and justice and antiracism educational interventions. Her community involvement includes serving as a trustee of the Washington School for Girls, a founding board member of Girls Rock! DC and an advisory board member of the D.C. Mayor’s Commission on Health Equity.
Her acceptance remarks included personal shout-outs to colleagues and one of her students in attendance and an empowerment call for those in the public health arena and beyond. “We have to move away from trying to survive,” she said. “We have to thrive.”
GW Alumni Association President William Alexander III, B.S. ’04, M.B.A. ’06, and Associate Vice President of Alumni Relations and Annual Giving Patty Carocci offered their congratulations to the winners.
“They have demonstrated the values that are the hallmarks of our institution,” Alexander said.
Carocci told the awardees that their achievements “have brought distinction to your families, to your communities and also to your alma mater.”
About 300 alumni registered for this year’s two-day reunion, which also included a welcome reception, a yoga experience and a first-ever family fun day in Potomac Square.
“We thought it would be nice to have something where alumni could bring their families,” GW Black Alumni Executive Committee Member Desha Anderson, M.T.A. ’05, said. “We had an alumna bring her daughter who is a current GW student. We love seeing those legacies.”
Executive committee member Christina Vickers, B.A. ’06, brought her 11-year-old son, Ryan, who is of course too young to enroll. But she’s hopeful. Vickers has been bringing Ryan to GW Black Alumni reunions since he was 4 years old and no taller than the bronze hippo sculpture outside of Lisner Auditorium. When she snapped a photo this year, she noticed Ryan now looms over the hippo.
“I have so many good memories here that I just want to share them with him and let him gain some memories as well,” said Vickers, a native and resident of New York City. “GW and GW Black Alumni are really an extension of me.”