May 17, 2016

Nell Braxton Gibson '82 and Ted Bunch '94 Presented with Distinguished Alumni Awards

Gibson and Bunch Honored at the Fifth Annual Celebration of Black History

President Merodie Hancock stands to the left of Nell Braxton Gibson '82 and Fay Wattleton. Hancock and Wattleton presented Gibson with the 2016 Distinguished Alumni Award at the college's fifth annual celebration of black history. Photo/Marty Heitner '92
President Merodie Hancock stands to the left of Nell Braxton Gibson '82 and Faye Wattleton. Hancock and Wattleton presented Gibson with the 2016 Distinguished Alumni Award. Photo/Marty Heitner '92

Nell Braxton Gibson ’82 and Ted Bunch ’94 were honored as distinguished alumni of SUNY Empire State College at the college’s fifth annual Black History Celebration held on May 12 in New York City.

This year’s celebratory theme was “Generations.”

G. Angela Henry, a member of the Empire State College Council and the immediate past president of SUNY’s Association of Council Members and College Trustees, acted as mistress of ceremonies.

“Tonight we will be talking over and over about family and generations,” said Henry. “You will see family members on this stage representing the generations and their influence on the college.”

“We are proud to celebrate the many ‘generations’ of black Americans who have contributed to making the world a better place and we are especially proud to showcase the amazing contributions made by our own Empire State College alumni,” said Merodie A. Hancock, president of the college.

President Merodie Hancock stands next to Ted Bunch '94. Hancock and Bunch's his daughter, Maya Akiele Bunch, presented him with the 2016 Distinguished Alumni Award at the college's fifth annual celebration of black history. Photo/Marty Heitner '92

President Merodie Hancock stands to the left of Ted Bunch '94 and his daughter, Maya Akiele Bunch. Hancock and Maya Akiele presented Bunch with the 2016 Distinguished Alumni Award. Photo/Marty Heitner '92

Bunch is a co-founder and co-director of A Call To Men, a leading violence-prevention organization.

“As we celebrate the importance of the contributions of African-Americans all year long, we must also acknowledge the vital role that SUNY and Empire State College have played in the lives of black scholars, leaders and social change agents,” said Bunch. “I am proud to stand with the memory of my mother, Nancy A. Bunch, who was one of the scholars and administrators that led the way in the vision and purpose of Empire State College for nearly 30 years.”

Bunch’s mother is the former dean of the college’s Metropolitan Center and he was introduced by his daughter, Maya Akiele Bunch, who recently earned a bachelor’s from the University of Virginia.

Gibson came of age in the Jim Crow-era South and is the author of “Too Proud to Bend: Journey of a Civil Rights Foot Soldier.”

“Many of us who were active in the civil rights movement of the 1960s discovered rather quickly during those days that we could not keep up with our studies and also spend time walking picket lines, sitting in at lunch counters and going to jail without having some of what we were doing suffer,” said Gibson.

She had always told herself that one day she would return to college, but, “I had no idea how difficult that would be with a husband, two children and a job.

“Today I not only thank Empire State College for helping me earn my bachelor’s degree, but I also want to thank the college for taking a stand that few institutions of higher learning are taking these days – especially if they are not historically black colleges and universities. Empire State College has initiated a program that shows how much black lives really matter, especially the lives of young black men who are part of the Black Male Initiative.”

The Black Male Initiative, one of the college’s many student/alumni clubs, helps students stay in school and complete their degrees, supports events, programs and other activities at the college and provides student scholarships.

In her welcoming remarks, Henry noted that the BMI scholarship fund now exceeds $57,000.

Again this year, Joe Washington, a jazz historian, former student mentor and member of the college’s faculty, offered contextual remarks.

“We reserve the right to celebrate black history during any month,” said Washington. “During the 11 other months (of the year) we do not go away.”

Washington was referencing the first three celebratory events, which were held during February, Black History Month.

The first three of the college’s events were postponed due to severe weather.

This year’s event was held in Manhattan at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, one of the City University of New York’s colleges.

Last year’s award recipients Robert Roach Jr. ‘96, immediate past general secretary-treasurer of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace workers, and Melba Tolliver ’98, the first black person ever to anchor a network news program, also attended this year’s event.

For the first time, prior to the awards ceremony and reception, the college held a recruitment fair and, for the fifth consecutive year, the event concluded with a performance of live jazz, this year featuring the Joe Locke Quartet.

About Ted Bunch ’94, Bachelor of Arts in Community and Human Services

Ten years ago, Bunch sent an open invitation to a modest network of people working in the field of domestic violence and sexual assault asking them to attend a presentation titled “A Call to Men – Becoming Part of the Solution.”

He and his co-founder, Tony Porter, wanted to talk to men. They wanted to raise awareness that violence and discrimination against women and girls is a larger social ill requiring a social response that needed to come from men.

Bunch is recognized both nationally and internationally for his expertise in organizing and educating men in the effort to create a healthier and more respectful manhood and his dedication to strengthening community accountability to end all forms of violence and discrimination against women and girls.

Bunch is the former director and co-creator of the largest program for domestic-violence offenders in the United States.

He has worked with police and fire departments, emergency medical technicians, paramedics and other first responders to domestic violence and is esteemed as a trainer, lecturer and consultant on male accountability.

Committed to the cause for more than 15 years, Bunch has attained leadership status in the domestic-violence, rape and sexual-assault prevention communities across the country.

Bunch brings a great enthusiasm and a wealth of knowledge to his work. He has trained at many colleges and universities throughout the United States, as well as in front of the National Football League. In addition, he been a guest on national television and radio programs and been a script consultant for “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.”

He has traveled abroad, speaking in Israel, Suriname, South Africa, Ghana, Brazil and Puerto Rico, as well as been an invited guest presenter for the United Nations' Commission on the Status of Women and the U.N. Alliance of Civilizations. He is an international lecturer for the U.S. Department of State and was appointed by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki- moon as a committee member to UNiTE, an international network of male leaders working to end violence against women.

Bunch’s award citation reads: “For his advocacy, activism and achievements in reshaping ideas so that all women and girls are valued and safe, SUNY Empire State College is proud to call Ted Bunch a most distinguished alumni.”

About Nell Braxton Gibson ’82, Bachelor of Arts in Cultural Studies

Gibson’s efforts to break down racial barriers also took her to Africa during the mid-1960s. She was later arrested in 1987, while protesting apartheid in front of the South African Consulate.

Her efforts caught the attention of Desmond Tutu, the former archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa. Tutu appointed her as a member of his steering committee of international religious leaders, who helped design a five-year plan to dismantle apartheid.

Today she continues her role as a community activist.

Born in the South to professional educators, Gibson grew up on black college campuses in Texas, Florida and Mississippi.

Activists in the 1950s, her parents became close friends with civil rights champions Mary McLeod Bethune and Medgar Evers and worked with them on increasing membership in the Mississippi NAACP.

In 1962, Gibson herself became part of the country's growing civil rights movement, when she and fellow students began walking on picket lines, participating in mass demonstrations and registering first-time black voters and were arrested for protesting segregated hearings at the Georgia State Capitol.

Gibson's personal commitment to justice led her to the international stage. She traveled to Africa in support of newly independent African nations, befriended and sheltered members of the exiled South African community and spoke out against the atrocities she witnessed in Tanzania and Namibia.

Back at home, her dedication to her cause led her to join her local church's Black and Brown Caucus. She also joined members of the Interfaith Council for Corporate Responsibility in its work to dismantle apartheid in South Africa.

Gibson was the first woman to serve on the board of trustees at Berkeley Divinity School at Yale University, which awarded her an honorary Doctor of Divinity.

She has been honored by the National Union of Black Episcopalians, the Manhattan Country School, the Episcopal Church's House of Deputies and received a Trinity Transformational Fellowship.

She is the former chair of the New York Diocesan Committee on Reparations for Slavery and a past coordinator of the Episcopal Urban Caucus, a social-justice organization whose mission is to stand in solidarity with poor and oppressed people.

Gibson and her husband, Bert, are the parents of a daughter, Ericka, the first African-American board-certified veterinary neurosurgeon.

Gibson’s award citation reads: “For her advocacy, activism and giving a voice to the powerless, SUNY Empire State College is proud to call Nell Braxton Gibson a most distinguished alumna.”

About the Distinguished Alumni Award

The college’s Distinguished Alumni Award recognizes and honors alumni of the college who have distinguished themselves in any field of endeavor since graduation. The criteria for the award include distinguished service to her or his craft or profession, or distinguished service to a local community, the state, nation, or in world affairs.

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