When Janet Brown, Lynn Briley, and Karen Ely first moved into their freshmen dorms in Jefferson Hall at William & Mary, they were unaware of the significance of their presence. The three women were the first African Americans in residence at the college, a fact unbeknownst to them until they were interviewed for the Flat Hat newspaper in October of their freshmen year. Prior to their arrival, African American students were rare and the few that were accepted were not allowed to live amongst their peers on campus. Fifty years have passed since these scholars began their studies in 1967. Since then, black students and faculty have built upon the legacy of these three women and those who came before them, creating spaces where members of the black community at William & Mary are able to thrive, succeed and support one another. William & Mary’s relationship with black students, faculty and staff has been anything but smooth. Brave Enough to be First serves to honor this legacy, to shed light on just how far we have come, and to inspire continued diversity and inclusion.
William & Mary commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of the first African American students in residence – Lynn Briley, Janet Brown and Karen Ely (class of 1971) – with a year-long series of special events, guest speakers and performances, beginning with Convocation weekend in August, 2017, and continuing through Commencement in May, 2018.
The commemoration's theme is Sankofa, which, in the Akan Language of West Africa, reflects the idea that "it is not taboo to go back and fetch what you forgot," a philosophy represented by various Adinkra symbols, among them a bird with its head turned backwards taking an egg from its back.
The commemoration slogan, "Building on the Legacy," derives from the Sankofa teaching that we must know and understand our past in order to move forward and make the most of our future.