Celebrating Black Excellence

One of Suffolk’s ‘best traditions’ draws hundreds of students, alumni, and their families
Tamika Correia Jacques, BS '97, accepts her award
Tamika Correia Jacques, BS ’97, accompanied by her daughter, accepts her 2024 Celebration of Black Excellence Outstanding Alumni Award 

Suffolk University Law School Professor Elbert Robertson’s deep pride was evident as he took the podium before the enthusiastic crowd at the University’s Sixth Annual Celebration of Black Excellence, including dozens of successful attorneys, government officials, and judges Robertson had taught and personally mentored over his 28-year-long teaching career.

“Keep on going. Keep on being excellent, and keep on doing what you do,” Robertson told the cheering attendees after being presented with the 2024 CBE outstanding faculty award. The culture of Black excellence at Suffolk, he said, is fostered by a commitment to being “the kind of institution Gleason Archer believed in,” by staying true to the principle that anyone, “regardless of social class, race, or religion, should be able to study the law.”

The March 22 dinner and awards ceremony held this year at the Hyatt Regency Boston recognized the achievements of alumni, faculty, and students, and raised funds for the Suffolk University Black Alumni Network Scholarship Fund.

Prince Iheonunekwa accepts his award
Prince Iheonunekwu, Sawyer Business School, accepts an Outstanding Student Award from Cherina Wright, JD/MBA'17, assistant vice president of student affairs

A community that ‘sits at the heart of Suffolk’

The idea for the Celebration of Black Excellence was first suggested by Trustee Ernst Guerrier, BS ’91, JD ’94, in 2018 “to celebrate this community that sits so much at the heart of Suffolk University,” said President Marisa Kelly in her welcome to a sold-out crowd of 300 guests in the grand ballroom. “And it has grown into being one of the best traditions at Suffolk.” 

Kelly said that the event celebrated not only Black excellence, but also Suffolk’s commitment to inclusion. “We don’t always get it right,” she acknowledged. “But as long as we continue to work together in support of diversity, in support of inclusion, and in support of belonging, then we will continually make progress.”

The evening opened with a performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” often called the Black national anthem, sung by Rebecca Zama, BA ’19,

Keynote speaker Tony Richards, MPA ’21, vice president of equitable business development at the Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency, spoke about how his Suffolk education was a direct stepping stone to his professional success. He also paid tribute to the memory of Marie “Sandy” Matava, MPA ’81, the longtime director of the Moakley Center for Public Management and beloved teacher and mentor, who died in late March.

“There are people in life that believe in you more than you do at certain moments. It’s important to have champions to not only cheer for you, but open the door for you as well. So tonight she is definitely on my mind,” Richards said.

Widmine "Lola" Remy, JD '09, accepts her award
Widmine "Lola" Remy, JD '09, accepts an Outstanding Alumni Award at the 2024 Celebration of Black Excellence awards ceremony

Honorees cite family as role models and inspiration

Outstanding Student Awards were presented to Selvin Backert, College of Arts & Sciences, Prince Iheonunekwu, Sawyer Business School, and Samantha Smart of Suffolk Law.

Backert, a senior history major, thanked his family, who had come to see him receive the award, and lauded the example they set in always looking for opportunities to serve others. “I think the reason you get an award for Black excellence may be because you are always surrounded by it,” he said.

Honored with Outstanding Alumni Awards were Jennifer Barthelemy-Nerestant, MPA ’21, secretariat director of diversity, equity, inclusion & access, Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services; Tamika Correia Jacques, BS ’97, author of A Brown Girls Guide to Employment and Networking and A Brown Parents Guide: Preparing Our Children for Employment In the 21st Century; and Widmine “Lola” Remy, JD ’09, director of pro bono programs for the Women’s Bar Foundation of Massachusetts.

Barthelemy-Nerestant also cited her family, immigrants from Haiti, as important to her success. “Seeing my parents, my grandparents, my aunts, and my uncles maneuver through a very different world than what they grew up in in order to seek out a better life for the generations that would come after them is nothing short of inspiring,” she said. “Remember, your value doesn’t decrease based on someone’s inability to see your worth. Continue to see your worth and your power from your own eyes. Don’t let anyone dictate what is possible for you. We stand here as proof of Black excellence, and no one can tell us otherwise.”

Celebration of Black Excellence 2024

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Greg Gatlin
Office of Public Affairs

Erica Noonan
Office of Public Affairs