Allied for exponential impact

The Black Men’s Alliance boasts a population of 60 engaged and active alumni—and wants to expand further. 

The Black Men's Alliance's spring event was a networking opportunity for students and alumni.
The Black Men's Alliance brought Black barbers to campus at no cost to students.

Bill Casher began attending UC Santa Cruz in 1996, studying biochemistry and molecular biology. He describes his undergraduate experience as tumultuous and challenging with the added caveat of feeling isolated as a Black and Filipino man in Santa Cruz. 

With the help of on-campus organizations like the Filipino Student Association and especially the Black Men’s Alliance (BMA), Casher (Oakes ’00) was able to find his community as a student and now as an alumnus. 

“Being a Black student in the sciences is challenging, and you start to seek community,” Casher said. “I think everybody does coming into a university, but finding folks more like yourself, that was a little hard to find in Santa Cruz. So I’m grateful to the Black Men’s Alliance for helping bridge that emotional void and gap for myself.”

The Black Men’s Alliance student group was formed in 1994 with the purpose of supporting the Black male student population at UCSC. The group hosted weekly meetings where they talked politics, discussed on-campus issues, and emotionally supported one another. Over the years, student participation in the BMA rose and fell. It had been primarily a student-focused organization, rather than engaging alumni, Casher said. 

In September 2020, Casher found the need to reconvene his community and began informally hosting weekly BMA meetings for UCSC alumni. The group became a space for members to support one another in the wake of the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police in May 2020 and the surge of protests against racism and police brutality that followed nationwide. 

UCSC alumnus and BMA Director Patrick Chandler (Rachel Carson ’99, history and politics) said the Black Men’s Alliance was a place where folks could share openly about the civil unrest without fear of retribution. 

“In the political nature of the time with uprisings and civil disturbances nationwide, some of the guys felt that they wanted to have an avenue where they could just talk,” Chandler said. “Talk about the imagery of seeing a Black man die on TV, at the hands of their own government; that’s not something you see happen to people on national news over, and over, and over again. So we wanted a place where we could just talk, rap, shoot the dozens, and just laugh and share.” 

Soon after, BMA members reflected on their strong desire to make an impact and decided to establish the alumni organization. Casher took the lead, making him a co-founder and president of the organization. The group currently boasts 60 active and engaged alumni and hopes to gain more. Casher said he hopes BMA’s evolving presence will bridge the gap between students and alumni. In his words, the group is all about “Black alumni serving Black students.”

“There is an opportunity as alumni to reconnect, reconvene, and have an impact,” Casher said. “I think we graduate, and we tend to think our impact should now be in our workplaces or our community. But there’s this amazing connectivity we have as alumni who have been in Santa Cruz. Understanding that there are students who are having that same level of challenge, isolation, and discouragement that we had as undergrads and understanding that we could really have a huge influence on their outcome.” 

BMA alumni have outlined goals to support students and alumni, including networking opportunities and mentorship programs. Their plans also include providing educational programs like financial literacy and debt consolidation classes, reimagining scholarships for students, hosting on-campus community networking events, and in general, being a place for both students and alumni to find community.  

The Black Men’s Alliance fashioned its most recent on-campus spring event to reflect a traditional barbershop in the Black community. Chandler used the example of LeBron James’s HBO show The Shop: Uninterrupted, where the NBA star hosts other celebrities, politicians, and athletes to have conversations and debates while in a barbershop. 

BMA’s version of The Shop at UCSC included catered barbecue, networking opportunities, Black barbers giving students fresh cuts, and a photographer providing professional headshots. 

“The idea was that people could come in, sit and chop it up, and get their hair done and taken care of,” Chandler said. “Because when I was at UC Santa Cruz as a student, there weren’t any Black barbers in town, and it’s important for people with curly, kinky hair to have someone who knows how to handle it. And so, we had barbers in the back at no cost to the students.”

For UCSC alumnus and BMA member Kwasi Addae (College Nine ’01, molecular, cellular and developmental biology), the spring event was a great way for him to reconnect with his community and alma mater. 

“There were a lot of folks that I had never physically seen before [because of the pandemic], so it was really great catching up with those folks,” Addae said. “I think it was really cool for the students to see that there is a heritage at this university that reflects upon them, that there are alumni walking around that look like them—and more importantly than looking like them, have had similar experiences to them, and can potentially help them navigate or commiserate.”

Casher said the organization hopes to be involved with more on-campus events and expand its reach to more students and alumni. 

“As alumni, we could really have a huge influence on students’ outcome,” Casher said. “Their graduation rates, their retention rates, their financial solvency, helping them get into professions, and leveraging our networks to step into that. So I just want to impress on all alumni to be encouraged to engage, network, and get involved with the university and with the alumni groups who are organizing, because the impact is exponential.” 

For more information on how to get involved with the Black Men’s Alliance, email Co-founder and President Bill Casher.