Black History Month - The University of Tulsa

Black History Month

TU announces Black Alumni Leadership Council

February is Black History Month, so it is fitting that The University of Tulsa’s vibrant alumni community is being enriched by the creation of the Black Alumni Leadership Council (BALC). This new group has four main goals:

  • To serve as a stimulus for the inclusion of Black alumni voices in the broader TU community and the TU Alumni Association board of directors
  • To advise and support institutional leadership in the advancement of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives
  • To unify Black alumni and foster personal and professional networks
  • To support student success among African American students through mentorship, networking and scholarships.

Members expect to focus their advocacy and planning efforts on scholarships and fundraising, alumni engagement, student mentorship, and special events and programs.

The council’s 13 members will serve for one, two or three years. They work in an array of industries and are spread out across the country from Washington and California to Virginia and Maryland.

Woman with short hair, open collar white shirt, black blazer
Dessie B. Nash, PhD

Inaugural chair Dessie B. Nash (BBA ’94) is a managing director and market investment executive at Bank of America Private Bank for the metro New York market. Nash has been with Bank of America for 15 years, manages the investment teams and leads the portfolio managers in developing customized investment strategies for high net worth clients.

“The Black Alumni Leadership Council is an incredibly important addition to the TU Alumni Association,” said Ann Heidger (BA ’99), president of the board of directors. “Dr. Nash and the entire council bring a perspective to the organization that will help advance TU’s mission in becoming a more diverse and inclusive community and will help us provide more mentoring and programming opportunities. I’m looking forward to serving alongside this important group as we find better ways to engage and support our students and alumni of color.”

Investing in the next generation

Nash’s motivation to serve on and lead BALC sprang from her student days. “When I was at TU, a lot of people took time to invest in me,” she remarked. “They provided me with a runway to take off to where I am right now. I feel I have an obligation to do the same and pay it forward. We have to invest in the next generation. We need to pull them through and hold them up.”

Thinking about the council’s potential contributions, Nash underscored the importance in ensuring DEI initiatives, are topics at the table as TU evolves according to its new strategic plan. “BALC will help the university achieve its strategic goals and ensure a level of accountability for diversity and inclusion through recruiting, retaining and supporting Black students; recruiting Black faculty; and developing a curriculum that helps embrace all that,” remarked Nash.

The council’s importance, Nash believes, lies also in the fact that Black students will have access to Black alumni: “This allows students to network with individuals who, like myself, are very passionate about the success of the university around the diversity and inclusion mandate. Now, they have individuals who look like them and who serve in the industries they may want to work in and can open doors for them.”

Council of leaders

“It’s a very impressive council, and I’m so happy to be a part of it and honored to lead BALC,” said Nash. Five of these individuals served as president of the Student Association during their years at TU.

Joining her in this council of leaders are:

  • Ashley Jackson (BSBA ’08), Commercial Finance Manager, RectorSeal (Houston)
  • Maurice James (BA ’91), Senior Director, T-Mobile (Seattle)
  • Odis Johnson (BA ’95), Bloomberg Distinguished Professor, Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore), PhD
  • Akilah LeBlanc (BSBA ’95), Regional Manager, Shell (Houston)
  • Brittany Opeloye (BSBA ’09), Supervisor, ConocoPhillips (Houston)
  • Thomas Porter (BSBA ’14), Senior Land Negotiator, Occidental Petroleum (Denver)
  • Paige Samuels (BS ’12), Advisor, Chevron (Houston)
  • Byron Sanders (BSBA ’06), President & CEO, Big Thought (Dallas)
  • Brian Surratt (BA ’98), Assistant Vice President, Alexandria Real Estate (Seattle)
  • Nicole Latimer Smith (BS ’92), Agency Sales Leadership, State Farm (Oklahoma City)
  • Reggie Tucker-Seeley (BSBA ’95), Assistant Professor of Gerontology, University of Southern California (Los Angeles), PhD
  • Quinn Woodard (BS ’11), Operations Advisor, Chevron (Houston)

Your support

“The Black alumni I’ve talked to are so excited about BALC,” remarked Nash. “It never dawned on us that this is what was missing. Now, we can reconnect as a family in the community we grew up in. It also allows us to give back our time and our resources, both financially and physically. We have an opportunity to contribute to the endowment because we do not want a Black student to not be able to attend TU or have to leave because of financial resources.”

Please consider contributing to the Black Alumni Leadership Council Scholarship Endowment Fund through our giving page. By doing so, you will help establish a significant legacy to assist TU students for years to come.




Graphic design alumnus raises Black History Month awareness with Nickelodeon

Justin Brown (BFA ’09) is making waves in the design world. A graduate of The University of Tulsa’s graphic design program in the School of Art, Design and Art History, Brown today is the owner of Houston-based firm The Brown Crayon, where he is also the creative director and motion designer. The companies Brown has assisted with his skills and talent include major names such as Lyft, BP and Nike.

African American man smiling with a beard, glasses and green jacket
Justin Brown

Now that he has been running the Brown Crayon for eight years, Brown understands firsthand the importance of calling attention to brands in ways that let people tell their stories in unexpected ways. As he puts it, “the brown crayon itself is often used to color things like dirt or tree bark, but it can be used for so much more.”

Illuminating Black history

A prime example of that sort of “so much more” is Brown’s recent work for Nickelodeon. This year, Nickelodeon is seeking to highlight major monthly observances, including Black History Month in February, Women’s History Month in March, and Pride in June. Brown was the designer Nickelodeon called on for its Black History Month project.

According to Brown, Nickelodeon’s campaign is intended to say that while there is still work to be done to achieve equality, positive change is happening. Brown noted that Nickelodeon’s team for this project was very diverse, and that it was important for them to find a Black voice to create the Black History Month piece, which is titled Shine a Light. “Nickelodeon wanted to get the right messages across,” he said, “and having many different voices is important to them.”

Graphic illustration with the words Shine a Light and two photos of Black men
A scene from “Shine a Light,” by Justin Brown

Informing Brown’s work on Shine a Light was his belief that Black History Month “is about bringing public awareness that Black people are a group to be considered and their impact needs to be recognized. Bringing their stories to light makes these impacts seem real for generations of people.”

Working with Nickelodeon was a great experience for Brown. He says was given complete creative control of his portion of the project, which can be seen on Nickelodeon’s Twitter account. Brown remarked that Shine a Light was a special project for many reasons, including the fact it is fully animated: “They usually like to blend graphics with live footage, but this time they wanted to fully rely on animation.”

Client relations and engaging designs

As someone who has been in the design business for nearly a decade, Brown notes that graphic design is increasingly in demand, and therefore having a robust artist’s portfolio is very important when seeking new business. “Whatever clients ask you to do, you’ve probably already done before,” he noted.

Graphic illustration of a smart phone with four physicians on the screen
A scene from explainer video for eDoc Telemedicine, by Justin Brown

While attending TU, Brown says that the most important skill that he picked up throughout his studies was the ability to facilitate client relations. The graphic design program enabled him to interact with real clients and deal with real deadlines. “This makes for a great experience that prepares you for the workload of a graphic designer post-graduation,” he said.

“Animation is an under-recognized part of our daily lives,” Brown went on to observe. “Yet, as internet users, we are presented with tons of different types of advertisements and clips through social media each day.” As a result, Brown believes that presentation and engaging design are more important than ever before. “Even something as tiny as the loading icon on a website lends itself to a brand’s image.”

“If a picture says a thousand words, it’s more important now than ever to develop better ways to get messages across to people.” — Justin Brown

Be kind, lean into your voice

Thinking back on his TU student days, Brown cites Teresa Valero, a now-retired TU professor, as one of the people who most inspired him to focus his career on graphic design. “I’m really grateful to Professor Valero. I don’t think I’d be doing this now if it hadn’t been for her. It’s amazing what she’s done for not only me, but for every designer that’s gone through TU.” For her part, Valero regards Brown as “one of the brightest stars from TU’s graphic design program.”

Graphic illustration of a cargo ship sailing on the ocean
A scene from “Big Data” explainer video for BP, by Justin Brown

Brown offers students wanting to follow a graphic design path a few words of advice. First, he advised, be kind: “Kindness is very important in the industry and companies will want to work with people they like.”

Brown’s second piece of advice is directed at Black students in particular: “Lean into your voice. These environments are changing for the better and it’s easier to be your authentic self. You have support, you have many allies, you are not alone. Be unapologetic, work hard, and it will pay off.”

As he envisions the future of his own practice, Brown takes heart from the fact that, across the nation, there are many groups and organizations dedicated to community outreach and education about Black contributions to the world. Indeed, Brown hopes to work to sharpen the Brown Crayon into one of these and, to do so, he envisions expanding his business: “Long term, I think the Brown Crayon is going to turn into something bigger than I’d imagined. In the future, I’d like to hire out a full-time creative staff. People have helped me along the way, so I’m very passionate about bringing other people up and providing opportunities to work.”

The University of Tulsa’s School of Art, Design and Art History offers programs in a wide variety of subjects, including graphic design, placing students in intimate environments to practice, understand and advance the visual arts. Learn more today!