By Leah Johnson ’15
It was a night of fun, food and fellowship as alumni, faculty, students and members of the community celebrated achievement at the sixth annual Black Excellence Ball on February 25. Black Alumni of SMU joined the Association of Black Students (ABS) to present “Mustang Masquerade.”
The program included remarks by SMU President R. Gerald Turner and keynote speaker Clint Smith, 2014 National Poetry Slam champion and doctoral candidate in education at Harvard University. The former high school English teacher is the recipient of a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship with research interests that include mass incarceration, the sociology of race and the history of U.S. inequality. His first book of poetry, Counting Descent, won the 2017 Literary Award for Best Poetry Book from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association and was a finalist for an NAACP Image Award.
Performances by SMU’s Voices of Inspiration Gospel Choir and dancers Kendall Lockhart ’19 and Takia Hopson ’19 ushered in the main event: recognition of the 2017 Black History Makers and Black Alumni Scholarship recipients as well as the ABS Legacy Award student and faculty honorees.
BLACK ALUMNI HISTORY MAKERS
Mercury R. Hall ’98, ’03 made University history as the first African American to receive a master’s degree in applied economics from SMU. As an undergraduate, he played on the Mustang football team while earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
Today the financial expert and sports entrepreneur serves as an assistant vice president on the trade settlement team at Markit, a global financial information, analytics and services company. He is also the founder and CEO of Mercury Universe, an online community and recruiting tool that enables young athletes to promote themselves to agents, coaches and fans.
In the community, Hall is involved with numerous charitable organizations including Meals on Wheels, Special Olympics and the Markit Social and Charity Committee. He also has served on the Richardson Corporate Challenge Board.
Contessa Hoskins ’09, a senior business engineering and operations consultant for Raytheon, has made her mark across the business spectrum in a wide range of industries, including petrochemicals, industrial commercial manufacturing, telecommunications, defense and aerospace, distributed control systems and automation and integration.
She is a certified Project Management Professional and Lean Six Sigma Certified Black Belt, a designation recognizing her expertise in helping companies improve performance and eliminate waste.
Hoskins has earned multiple awards for mentoring excellence, service, corporate performance and leadership and been profiled in numerous publications, including US Black Engineer and Beta Gamma Sigma honor society magazines.
She earned an MBA from the Cox School of Business and serves on the school’s alumni board.
Moses L. Williams, Jr. ’78, ’81, the first African American to obtain a Ph.D. in anthropology from SMU, founded an innovative education program in 1990 while director of admissions for Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia.
The program, which was hosted by SMU for several years, trained minority students for success in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, beginning in seventh grade and continuing through college. One hundred percent of program participants attended college, 99 percent graduated and 92 percent completed the pipeline project before it ended in 2016.
Through the program, Williams has helped produce hundreds of minority physicians, scientists and engineers.
BLACK ALUMNI SCHOLARSHIP RECIPIENTS
Autumn Langston ’17, a music therapy major and arts entrepreneurship minor, has served as director of the Voices of Inspiration Gospel Choir for three consecutive years. She also serves as treasurer for the Student Association of Music Therapy and parliamentarian for the Southwestern Region of the American Music Therapy Association for Students.
After completing five semesters of clinical practicum at SMU and serving as an AmeriCorps member, she has developed a passion for working with youth and the psychiatric music therapy setting. Following her graduation in May, she will begin a six-month music therapy internship at a psychiatric hospital that serves children, adolescents and adults. She believes music has the power to heal and connect us all.
“The scholarship means opportunity,” Langston says. “It’s nice to feel appreciated and recognized. I’m grateful.”
Lezly Murphy ’19, a sophomore from Houston, is majoring in electrical engineering with a pre-medicine focus. A Hilltop Scholar, she has served as an assistant for professors in the physics and chemistry departments.
She is active in numerous campus organizations, including ABS, Women in Science and Engineering and Sisters Supporting Sisters, a service and support network for minority students and all women on campus.
After graduation, Murphy plans to attend medical school with the goal of conducting research in drug design, serving with Doctors Without Borders, an international medical humanitarian organization, and designing and reforming medical devices and methodologies.
Murphy said that after a tough semester, it was nice to receive encouragement through the scholarship.
“I’m very grateful,” she said. “This was a miracle and a blessing. I’m supposed to be here at SMU. This is my home.”
ASSOCIATION OF BLACK STUDENTS LEGACY AWARDS
- Naomi Samuel ’19, finance and English major, is a member of Sigma Lambda Gamma National Sorority Inc. and a resident assistant.
- Raven C. Harding ’19, health and society and psychology double major with a minor in Spanish, serves on the executive board of Sisters Supporting Sisters and as president of the Belle Tones, a student-run, all-female a cappella group. She also has served as a resident assistant and a student ambassador. She was named Homecoming Princess for the inaugural Black Homecoming Court.
- Gel Greene ’18, sports management major, is a member of the SMU Rowing team, SMU Cheer and Pom squads and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. After earning her bachelor’s degree, she plans to pursue a master of science in sports management at SMU.
- Cecily Cox ’18, is a pre-law scholar who serves as chair of the Student Senate Diversity Committee, community service chair for Sisters Supporting Sisters and vice president of College Democrats. She is also an Engaged Learning fellow and has served as an intern for Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson ’76.
Maria Dixon Hall, associate professor of organizational communication and director of Corporate Communication and Public Affairs at Meadows School of the Arts, serves as the SMU Provost’s senior advisor for Campus Cultural Intelligence Initiatives. Professor Dixon Hall is passionate about helping organizations and nonprofits communicate in a way that creates results, community and transformation. She serves as the director of Mustang Consulting, an in-house firm staffed by top communication students, whose global client list includes Southwest Airlines (Dallas), The Dance Theatre of Harlem (New York), the Ugandan American Partnership Organization (Kampala/Dallas), The Lydia Patterson Institute (El Paso) and Lifeworks (Austin).
Dixon Hall maintains an active speaking schedule and is a frequent contributor to national media outlets such as TIME magazine and CNN on issues of race and education.
Recognized throughout her SMU career for her teaching and research, Dixon Hall has been honored with the 2005-06 Willis M. Tate award for service to the student body; the 2009 Golden Mustang Award for outstanding teaching and research by junior faculty; the 2010 Rotunda Award for Outstanding Teaching; and the 2011 “M” Award, SMU’s highest award for service to the University. In 2016, she was named an Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor by SMU’s Center for Teaching Excellence.