Celebrating 20 years of Mason’s Black Alumni Chapter


In December, George Mason University’s Black Alumni Chapter saluted its history while looking to the future at “A Toast to 20,” a gala celebration of the chapter’s 20th anniversary.

Black Alumni Chapter members
Mason's Black Alumni Chapter members gathered in December 2023 to celebrate 20 years. Photo by Tracey Waters-Taylor

The gathering included seven of the founding members: David C. Atkins, BS ’90; Ailsa Burnett, BS ’93, MA ’96, MPA ’08; Conaway Haskins III, BA ’99; Cynthia Porter Johnson, BA ’93, MS ’02; Jerod Parker, BS ’97; Tennille Smith Parker, BA ’97; and Uche Onwudiwe, BS ’95, MA ‘97, who traveled from Africa to celebrate the event.

“Acknowledging the dedication of past leadership is crucial,” said Chapter President Deion Maith, BA ’20. “Giving them their flowers while we can serves as a powerful motivator to elevate the chapter's growth and impact.”

The evening also included 10 past chapter presidents: in addition to Atkins, Johnson ,and Smith Parker, past presidents Deidra Bailey, BA ’09, MEd ’11; Chantée Christian, BA ’05; Timothy Cotman, BA ’06, MEd ’99; Janae Johnson, BS ’11, MAIS ’15; Melissa Bradby Lewis, BA ’04, MA ’09; Ryan Lowry, BS ’06; and Issac W. K. Thweatt, BM ’05, were also in attendance.

“Having been an extremely involved student at Mason, I was surprised how disconnected I felt from the university as a result of my primary collegiate community being almost invisible as it related to their involvement at Mason,” said Atkins. “So, it became important to me to help bring this community back together to begin creating pride and tradition that would strengthen the connection of Black alumni to the university, but also to each other.”

Pres Washington and members of the Black Alumni Chapter
President Washington, Deion Maith, and David Atkins at the Toast to 20 event, which raised almost $40,000 to support the chapter's endowment. Photo by Tracey Waters-Taylor

Mason President Gregory Washington was on hand to recognize the success of the chapter and commend the gathering.

“Consider this, from 2010 to 2019, enrollment of Black undergraduates declined by 20% nationally. Declined by 20%. In comparison, Mason’s Black first-time undergraduate enrollment increased 73% during that period, placing Mason fourth nationally,” Washington said. “This group, for the support it provides and the supportive environment it helps foster, shares in that success.”

Founded in 2003, the chapter has established the Commitment to Diversity Book Award, championed the first Black Graduation Ceremony, and launched the Forty Under 40 celebration, held every three years to highlight the achievements and contributions of its members. In 2011, they became the first Mason alumni chapter to establish their own chapter-driven endowment.

Through the generosity of sponsors, donors, and pledge gifts, the chapter’s Toast to 20 raised nearly $40,000, making it the most successful fundraising event in chapter history.

Top sponsors and donors included Martin A. Taylor, Thweatt, Lowry, and Sodexo U.S., the company that handles dining and catering on Mason’s Fairfax Campus.

Maith credited Atkins’ leadership for the success of the event. “David has played a major role in the development of the chapter—as a founding member, the longest serving president of the chapter, champion of the chapter’s endowment, and 2017 Black Distinguished Alumni,” said Maith. “I approached David early in my presidency to ask him how we should celebrate the 20th anniversary of the chapter. He immediately saw the vision before we could even put pen to paper.”

 “The 20th anniversary celebration allowed for this community to pause and reflect on the impact it has made since its founding and express public gratitude to those who have led this chapter over the years and often worked behind the scenes to ensure our Black alumni find reasons to stay involved with Mason,” Atkins said. “ It was personally rewarding to experience the joy and pride that exuded from alumni at this celebration.”

The loyalty and drive of the entire board contributed to the night’s strong success, Maith added. Because they believe in the vision of the Black Alumni chapter, they have set a firm foundation for the future.

The musical talents of DJ K.E.V. (aka Kevin Holmes, BA ’02, MA ’07) rounded out the evening, as the attendees danced into the chapter’s next 20 years. “I look forward to continuing the very first mission statement of the chapter,” said Maith. “We're everywhere you want to be—connecting, communicating, and educating!’”

The chapter’s next big event is the  Black Alumni Weekend, coming on June 7–9, 2024, featuring a happy hour and cookout and offering members a time to reunite, reflect, and celebrate the community post-graduation.