Keilah Davis | Staff Writer
Toni Harris Thorpe, widely known as Mama Thorpe, is retiring from NC State on Dec. 16. For over 15 years as program coordinator for the African American Cultural Center (AACC), Mama Thorpe has initiated and planned many programs including Harambee, Blacks in Wax, and What’s On the Table.
“Mama Thorpe’s role as ‘Mama Thorpe’ can’t be replaced,” Destinie Statum, a senior studying social work and AYA ambassador, said. “When you have a member of the community that uplifts so many people, then that’s a genuine thing that comes from their soul and it’s not something you can put in a job description.”
Dr. Frances Graham, currently serves as the interim director for the AACC. Dr. Graham’s interim contract remains in effect until June 2017 or until the position is permanently filled. Dawn Morgan, assistant director of the AACC, and Angela Jenkins, the AACC librarian, will remain on staff through this transition.
As interim director, Dr. Graham is responsible for the full capacity of the director position. The new director will be responsible for hiring a new program coordinator and office manager.
Reggie Barnes, director of campus community centers, said, “As NC State University celebrates the 25th Anniversary of the African-American Cultural Center, we are looking for a creative and visionary director to lead the Center through a season of restructure.” Barnes is heading the hiring process for the new director.
According to Graham, Mama Thorpe’s responsibilities will be shared between Graham and Morgan until the position is permanently filled. No interim program coordinator will be hired.
“This [director] will provide oversight for the development of innovative educational initiatives designed to promote greater awareness and appreciation for the history, culture and contributions of Africa and people of African descent around the globe,” Barnes said. “This will be done through cultural programming, academic discourse, workshops, the arts, research and community engagement initiatives.”
The director will have many responsibilities including strategic planning, fiscal management, fundraising, faculty engagement, staff supervision, professional development, public relations, marketing and promotion as well as inter-departmental and cross-divisional collaborations.
The director will report directly to the Senior Director of Campus Community Centers within the Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity.
With new leadership in the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity, a new director of campus community centers, and new leadership in the AACC, some students expressed concerns about the turnover and transition.
“Since I’ve been here, since 2014, there’s been a lot of turnover,” Jordan Anderson, a junior studying environmental technology and AYA ambassador, said. “That’s a lot of transition at one time.”
Other students suggested that we should look to the leadership of NC State students rather than the university administration. “It’s on us to keep the momentum going to honor her legacy,” Carlos McClaney, a senior studying technology, engineering, and design education, said.
Barnes is hopeful about the direction of the AACC and its new leadership. “Our primary goal moving forward is to build upon the AACC’s long history of campus-wide community-building, professionalism, stellar artistic and cultural experiences and high impact practices,” Barnes said. “We are excited about creating collaborative partnerships with more academic departments that we hope will broaden the field of research about the African and African-American experience.”
Although community members have mixed feelings about the AACC’s future, Mama Thorpe’s absence will be felt by all. “I always learn something from her. There hasn’t been a week that has gone by that I haven’t learned something new from Toni,” Dr. Graham said. “For me it’s been a personal pleasure and, professionally, it’s been an incredible opportunity to work with someone you have such profound respect for.”