Celebrating Black Alumni at Swarthmore

As part of Black History Month and with sincere thanks to the Black Cultural Center for curating them, we are excited to share these spotlights of Black alumni from Swarthmore. This initiative to acknowledge and honor others who came before was imagined by SASA President, Augustella Makiese ’25, and spearheaded by BCC Intern, Sarah Adebiyi ’26, who meticulously researched the alumni selected to be profiled.

Adebiyi shared thoughts on the significance of sharing these stories: “Black History Month is an opportunity to celebrate the Black people in our community, both past and present, who have had positive impacts on the world. As a Black student at a predominantly white institution, it was important that I took this opportunity to highlight the accomplishments of past Black alumni and show that they are more than just graduates. They are lawyers, doctors, presidents, CEOs, and more. Beyond their career accomplishments, they are innovators and creators who have impacted their communities positively, embodying the meaning of what it means to be a Swattie. Swarthmore’s Black alumni have all left a legacy in their respective fields and it is only right that I share this with the Swarthmore community.”  

Throughout the month, we will continue to add profiles to showcase the breadth and depth of these rich and impactful lives across a range of career paths:

  • Alex Anderson ’13 (Chinese, Studio Art)Ceramicist
  • Dr. Patrick Awuah, Jr. ’89 (Economics, Engineering)President, Ashesi University in Ghana
  • H.G. Chissell ’96 (Psychology)Award-winning Clean Energy Strategist
  • Christopher Edley Jr. ’73 (Mathematics) Law Professor & Author
  • Maurice Eldridge ’61Vice Chair for the Chester Fund for Education & the Arts
  • Maurice Foley ’82 (Public Policy & Black Studies)Chief Judge of the U.S. Tax Court
  • Wilma Lewis ’78 (Political Science) Former U.S. Attorney to the District of Columbia
  • Dr. Kemal Nance ’92 (Anthropology & Sociology)Professor of Dance and Director of Nance Dance Collective
  • Nicole Nfonoyim-Hara ’08 (Anthropology & Sociology) Host & Associate Producer of R-Town on QSMQ
  • Marcella Nunez-Smith ’96 (Anthropology & Psychology) Public Health Pioneer, Director of Equity Research & Innovation Center at Yale University
  • Dawn Porter ’88 (Political Science)Award-winning Documentary Filmmaker & Producer
  • Mary Schmidt Campbell ’69Former President of Spelman College
  • Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon ’12 (History & Russian Language) – Historian & Social Media Celebrity
  • Vaneese Thomas ’71 (French)Songwriter, Singer, Producer & Actor
  • Zoe Whitley ’01 (Art History & French) Art Historian & Curator
Alex Anderson '13: Ceramicist Alex Anderson graduated from Swarthmore College with a BA in Chinese Studio Art. As a Fulbright Scholar, he resided in Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China, for ten months to study ceramic art and ink painting at the Academy of Art. He obtained his MFA in Ceramics from UCLA and was later awarded the UCLA Arts Council Award.

Inspirational quote: "The quality, not the longevity, of one's life is what is important."  - Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dr. Patrick Awuah, Jr. '89

Dr. Patrick Awuah Jr. graduated from Swarthmore College with a BA in Economics and a BS in Engineering and received his MBA from UC Berkeley. He worked as a program Manager at Microsoft for 8 years where he spearheaded the development of dial-up internet working technologies and gained a reputation for bringing difficult projects to completion. After leaving Microsoft in 1997, Dr. Awuah established Ashesi University College in Ghana, where he currently serves as President. His numerous awards include membership of the Order of Volta, in recognition of his service to Ghana, the Young Global Leader by 2007 by the World Economic Forum, and in 2009, the John P. McNulty Prize, Aspen Institute, which recognizes extraordinary young leaders making creative and lasting contributions to their community.
H.G. Chissell '96

H.G. Chissell earned his BA in Psychology from Swarthmore College and studied architecture at Drexel University; he later received his accreditation as a LEED AP. He is the Founder and CEO of Advanced Energy Group (AEG), a competitive stakeholder platform committed to delivering clean energy and making systemic changes on climate, health and equity. He is Co-Founder of Zero Carbon Coffee and GirdMarket, LLC. in 2014. H.G. Chissell received the Federal Energy Management Program Award for his work at US Army base Fort Meade for ancillary market integration of critical assets. In March 2021, H.G. Chissel received the President's Award for Excellence in Leadership from the Society of Black Engineers Boston Professionals. H.G. Chissell serves as a Board Member of NECEC, a regional non-profit clean energy business, policy and innovation organization. 

Inspirational Quote: "The quality,  not the longevity, of one's life is what is important." - Martin Luther King, Jr.
Christopher Edley Jr. '73 

Christopher Edley Jr. has spent 40 years influencing public policy and teaching law. He received his BA in Mathematics from Swarthmore college, JD from Harvard Law School and his MPP from Harvard Kennedy School. He spent 23 years as a Harvard professor, focusing on administrative law, civil rights, education policy, and domestic public policy. He is the author of Administrative Law: Rethinking Judicial Control of Bureaucracy and Not All Black and White: Affirmative Action, Race and American Values. He is also the Honorable William H. Orrick, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Law at UC Berkeley School of Law, after serving as dean from 2004-2013.

Inspirational Quote: "The quality, not the longevity, of one's life is what is important." - Martin Luther King Jr.
Maurice Eldridge '61 

Maurice Eldridge was one of the first African American male students accepted at Swarthmore College. He graduated from Swarthmore College in 1961 and has remained an integral member of the Swarthmore community. He initially served as the Associate Director of Development of Swarthmore College and later served as Vice President for College and Community Relations in 1989. Starting in 2018, he served as Vice Chair of the Chester Fund for Education and the Arts, overseeing the foundation of both the Chester Children's Chorus and the Chester Charter Scholars Academy. Maurice Eldridge remains a leading figured in the educational and creative communities which he helped develop; you can even find his portrait in the Science Center.
Maurice Foley '82 - Maurice Foley currently serves as the Chief Judge of the U.S. Tax Court, the first Black person to serve in this position. He graduated from Swarthmore College with a BA in Public Policy and Black Studies. He then attended UC Berkeley where he earned his Juris Doctor (J.D.) and later obtained a Master of Law in Taxation from Georgetown University Law Center. Judge Foley currently works as an adjuster professor at American University Washington College of Law, the University of Colorado Law School, and the University of Baltimore School of Law.

Inspirational quote: "The quality, not the longevity, of one's life is what is important." - Martin Luther King, Jr.
Wilma Lewis '78 - Wilma Lewis graduated from Swarthmore College with a BA in Political Science, and she later earned her JD from Harvard Law School in 1981. Throughout her professional career, she has received numerous awards, amongst them the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Dream Keepers Award and the National Black Prosecutors Association Founders' Award. In 1988, Lewis was nominated and confirmed as United States Attorney for the District of Columbia. She is the first woman to serve as a federal judge in the Virgin Islands. She was nominated twice by former President Barack Obama to serve as Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Land and Minerals Management in 2009 and a federal judge on the District Court of the Virgin Islands in 2011, a position she dutifully remained in until April 27, 2021.

Inspirational Quote: "The quality, not the longevity, of one's life is what is important." - Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dr. Kemal Nance '92 - Dr. Kemal Nance is an Assistant Professor in Dance at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. He obtained his BA in Sociology and Anthropology from Swarthmore College and his PhD in Dance from Temple University. He currently directors the Nance Dance Collective, an all male dance initiative that produces dance works about Black manhood. He is a master teacher of the Umfundalai technique of African dance, a founding member of the National Association of American Dance Teachers, and an Executive Board Member of the Collegium of African Diaspora Dance.

Inspirational quote: "The quality, not the longevity, of one's life is what is important." - Martin Luther King, Jr.
Nicole Nfonoyim-Hara '08 - Nicole Nfonoyim-Hara is a writer and anthropologist committed to community building and storytelling. She is a former Fulbright scholar in cultural and applied anthropology; she holds a B.A. in anthropology/sociology from Swarthmore College and a master's degree in immigration studies from the University of Oxford, England. She is a host and associate producer of R-Town, on KSMQ. She also works as the Program Director for the Office of Education, Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine & Science. Her writing has been recognized by the Loft Literary Center, the Minnesota State Arts Board, the Givens Foundation for African American Literature, and the VONA/Voices of Our Nation Foundation. 

Inspirational Quote: "The quality, not the longevity, of one's life is what is important." - Martin Luther King, Jr.
Marcella Nunez-Smith '96

Marcella Nunez-Smith is C.N.H Long Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at the Yale School of Medicine, where she serves as the inaugural Associate Dean for Health Equity Research and founding Director of the Equity Research and Innovation Center. She co-chaired the Biden-Harris transition's COVID-19 Advisory Board from November 2020 to January 2021, and was selected by President Joe Biden to serve as Senior Advisor to the White House COVID -19 Response Team and Chair of the Presidential COVID-19 Equity Task Force. She obtained her BA in Biological Anthropology and Psychology from Swarthmore College, attended Jefferson Medical College, was resident at Harvard Medical School, and completed her Master of Health Science at Yale University. Marcella Nunez-Smith is undoubtedly a pioneer in the field of public health.
Dawn Porter '88

Dawn Porter graduated from Swarthmore College with a degree in political science and earned a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center. She is an award-winning documentary film maker and founder of the production company, Trilogy Films. In 2021, she directed and produced the Apple TV+ mental health documentary series, The Me You Can't See, alongside Oprah and Prince Harry. She is well-known for Trapped (2016), Gideon's Army (2013), and John Lewis: Good Trouble (2020).

Inspirational quote: "The quality, not the longevity, of one's life is what is important." - Martin Luther King, Jr.
Mary Schmidt Campbell '69

Mary Schmidt Campbell served as the 10th president of Superman College, a leading liberal arts college for women of African American descent located in Atlanta, Georgia. Under her leadership, the Studio Museum of Harlem was transformed from a rented loft to the country's first accredited Black Fine Arts Museum. In September 2009, former President Barack Obama appointed Dr. Campbell as the vice chair of the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities, a non-partisan advisory committee to the President of the United States on cultural matters. She received the Medal of Distinction from the American Academy in Rome at the 2021 New York Gala for advancing the arts and humanities, among many other prestigious awards.
Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon '12

Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon '12 grew fascinated with Russia at 13, once she saw The History Channel's Russia: Land of the Tsars miniseries. She continued to explore her interests in Slavic studies by obtaining a BA in History and the Russian Language at Swarthmore College, an MA in Regional Studies: Russia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia from Harvard University, and an additional MA in History from the University of Pennsylvania. She is currently a PhD student in History at the University of Pennsylvania and is well-known as a historian of Russian, the Soviet Union, and Eastern Europe. She is also regarded as a social media celebrity as she gained a huge following on Twitter for sharing history behind the conflict in Ukraine and her feelings about it.
Vaneese Thomas '74

Vaneese Thomas is an American R&B, jazz and soul blues singer. Highly regarded within the music industry, Vanessa's talents as a singer, songwriter, producer, and actor have made her a sought-after solo performer as well as a first-call vocalist for projects by other top-name artists. She received her BA in French at Swarthmore College and also helped to establish the Swarthmore College Gospel Choir. Vaneese has worked extensively in film and television. She was the voice of Grace the Bass on the PBS series Shining Time Station and Clio the Muse - Goddess of History in Disney's Hercules. She has sung on numerous film soundtracks including Anastasia, Mighty Aphrodite and the First Wives Club.

Inspirational quote: "The quality, not the longevity, of one's life is what is important."
Zoe Whitley '01 - Zoe Whitley studied Art History and French at Swarthmore College, and later earned an MA from the Royal College of Art and her Ph.D. from the University of Central Lancashire. She is an art historian and curator who has been director of Chisenhale Gallery since 2020. Her research interests include contemporary artistic and art practices from Africa and the African diaspora. In 2021, she was appointed to the Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm, a committee overseeing diversity in London's public monuments and its street and building names. Zoe Whitley has authored several books including Uncomfortable Truths: The Shadow of Slave Trading on Contemporary Art and Design and The Shadows Took Shape. 

Inspirational quote: "The quality, not the longevity, of one's life is what is important." - Martin Luther King,Jr.
By Claire Klieger
Claire Klieger Assistant Vice President & Executive Director