By Gramond McPherson |
March 11, 2019
Bundles Presentation

The UCF Africana Studies Program and History Department hosted the inaugural speech of the new Dr. John T. Washington Lecture Series at the Live Oak Event Center. Dr. Washington, the lecture’s namesake, served as one of the first black faculty members at UCF from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s. Washington’s life of service and altruism impacted those at the university and in the broader Orlando community. After his death in 1983, his legacy of community service lives on through the university’s John T. Washington Honor Society and this lecture series, which continues the tradition of the annual Dr. John T. Washington Community Service and Scholarship Awards Luncheon.

The inaugural speaker for the lecture series was A’Lelia Bundles, the great-great-granddaughter of Madam C.J. Walker. Ms. Bundles was a producer in broadcast journalism spending thirty years working at NBC News and ABC News. She has written several books about her foremother including her 2001 biography, On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker. Currently, an eight-episode Netflix series, based on her book, is in production starring Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer as Madam CJ Walker and various executive producers including NBA superstar Lebron James.

The theme of the lecture was “Raising Our Voices: Madam C.J. Walker’s Legacy of Leadership, Activism and Education.” Dr. Fon Gordon, Associate Professor in the History Department and Coordinator of the Africana Studies Program, introduced Ms. Bundles; they were childhood friends. Bundles talked about how her love of history grew not from her educational experiences in school, but from stories obtained through her family, particularly from her grandfather. As she learned the relevance of history concerning her foremother, Bundles gained a new appreciation for how contemporary Madam Walker was for her era. While Madam Walker is known for establishing a line of cosmetics and hair care products and becoming a wealthy, self-made black businesswoman, Bundles emphasized that Walker’s greatest legacy was her work of service to her community, particularly to black women. In public and private spheres, Walker promoted black entrepreneurship, contributed funds to schools, churches and charities, and she supported federal anti-lynching legislation against African Americans. Bundles’ presentation connected the role of black leaders like Dr. Washington and Madam C.J. Walker in empowering their communities and using their influence and platforms in service to others.

The program also included the presentation of scholarship and community service awards and a dining stipend conferred on three Africana Studies Minors. Additionally, Aishat Awe, the vice-president of the Washington Honor Society (WHS), gave a speech of tribute to the life and legacy of Washington. Awe reminded the audience that the WHS continues his mission in promoting the qualities of leadership and community engagement. The membership class of fifty-four inducted in fall 2018 was the largest in the history of the WHS.

History graduate students Brandon Nightingale, Samuel Ortiz and Gramond McPherson with A'Lelia Bundles.
History graduate students Brandon Nightingale, Samuel Ortiz and Gramond McPherson with A’Lelia Bundles.

The following day on Wednesday, February 20, the UCF History Department’s chapter of Phi Alpha Theta, the History honor society, hosted a Brown Bag session, which provides students the opportunity to have informal, intimate conversations with speakers such as Ms. Bundles. Bundles talked about her life experiences and research while the students discussed their research interests with her. One particular conversation that promoted dialogue between Bundles and the graduate students involved comparing how they each obtained news through traditional means of hard copy newspapers and nightly television news versus internet news stories, news clips, and social media platforms. The entire experience of the lecture and the Brown Bag advocated the relevance of history, particularly during Black History Month, and the need to raise one’s voice and commitment to service.

View the lecture here.