Celebrating Black Alumni from Swarthmore

As part of Black History Month and with sincere thanks to the Black Cultural Center for curating them, we are excited to share this year’s spotlights of Black alumni from Swarthmore.

This initiative to acknowledge and honor others who came before was imagined last year by SASA President, Augustella Makiese ’25, and spearheaded this year by BCC Research Interns, Zuri Eason ’27 and Derrick Nyaga ’27, who meticulously researched the alumni selected to be profiled.

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:

Njideka Akunyili Crosby ’04 graduated from Swarthmore where she majored in art and biology as a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow and later graduated from Yale University in 2011 where she was selected as artist-in-residence at the highly regarded Studio Museum in Harlem, known for promoting and supporting emerging African artists. As a Nigerian born visual artist she is now working in LA with so many accomplishments behind her. In 2014, she won the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s James Dicke Contemporary Art Prize. In 2016, Akunyili Crosby was named one of the Financial Times Women of the Year. She was awarded the prestigious Genius Grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in 2017. She made a significant contribution to the 2022 exhibition Women Painting Women at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. Her work is based on her “character that doesn’t fit into a box.”

Njideka Akunyili Crosby – Life after Swarthmore

Tolulope Banjo graduated with a Bachelor’s degree focused in Medical Anthropology from Swarthmore College in 2022. She recently received the Karen Dvonch Steinmetz ’76 award presented each year to a student or alumnus applying to medical school who has displayed compassion and dedication to others during their time at Swarthmore College. Tolulope is a Research Technician at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. She was recently published in the Behavioral Science Journal as part of a team from Nemours focused on reducing disparities in health outcomes.

Nusrat Love, now Judge Love graduated from Swarthmore College with a Bachelor of Arts in History and Black Studies degree in 1993. Judge Nusrat J. Love was elected as a judge of the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas in November 2019. She was recognized for a few very important firsts – udge Love is the first African-American woman and first woman of color on the Delaware County trial court. She is the first Muslim to be elected as a state trial court judge in Pennsylvania history. Judge Love is the recipient of the 2020 Judge Carolyn H. Nichols Drum Major for Justice Award, that recognizes local civil rights activists.

Jalisa Roberts graduated from Swarthmore College with a BA in Black Studies and Dance. She is the Founder and Executive Director of The Cocoon, a nonprofit, Youth Empowerment Program. Her exceptional talent as a choreographer has contributed positively to the community as a dance instructor years before she attended Swarthmore to date. Jalisa has a prominent place in history as the inaugural winner of the college’s first ever SwatTank, the debut of her organization. Jalisa’s mission is to use dance to create space for dialogue and change. In her words loaded with profound wisdom, “A scared, shy gift won’t be a gift of love, so I let my heart speak more than my brain.”

Dr. Gloria Thomas graduated from Swarthmore with a degree in English Literature. She received her PhD in Philosophy at the University of Michigan. Dr. Thomas became the President of HERS (Higher Education Resource Services) in 2021. Dr. Thomas mentions that, “HERS is the only organization that’s committed to closing the gender gap in higher education leadership with hopes to achieving intersectional gender equity, inclusivity, and excellence.”

Emma Morgan-Bennett graduated from Swarthmore majoring in Medical Anthropology and Minoring in Black studies. Emma played for the varsity volleyball team and was an Advocate for Diversity in the Athletics Department. In addition to this, she was a Mellon Mays Fellow and a Marshall Scholar. She is currently pursuing a MA in Digital Media at Goldsmiths, University of London.

Ja’Dell Davis graduated with a special major in history and educational studies and a Black studies minor. During her time at Swarthmore, she was involved in several student organizations, including: SASS/SASA/SOCA, Essence of Soul, Rhythm NMotion and Swarthmore Gospel Choir while at Swarthmore. In addition to these groups she was a tutor for Chester Elementary School with Dare 2 Soar, and the Paces Cafe Director. After graduation, she went on to University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education where she earned her Masters in Teaching. She is now a researcher and evaluator at Wisconsin Center for Education Research. She consults in education initiatives centered on racial equity and culturally responsive praxis.

Dr. Mercer earned her undergraduate degree from Swarthmore College in 1973 and her Doctorate of Medicine from the Medical College of Virginia. She became the medical director at the Norfolk Community Health Center until her retirement in 2017. Over the years, Dr. Mercer’s community service has included participation on the Board of Directors for the Governor’s Advisory Board for Emergency Medical Services, EdMarc Hospice for Children, The United Way of South Hampton Roads, Women United of the United Way and The Greater Norfolk Medical Society of South Hampton Roads. In 2003, she became the Medical Director for the Norfolk Community Health Center. She currently mentors medical students from minority populations. Recently, Dr. Mercer has been elected to the Virginia Wesleyan University (VWU) Board of Trustees, where she continues to make an impact while achieving black excellence.

Juda Smack acquired a BA in Gender and Sexuality Studies as well as a minor in Black Studies from Swarthmore in 2019. Juda was a Mellon Mays
Undergraduate Fellow, which gave Juda the opportunity to do independent research on Black Feminism and Transfeminism as an undergraduate. Juda also held an internship with the Audre Lorde Project, a nonprofit for Black and brown LGBTQ folks of New York. Beyond professional endeavors, Juda is deeply committed to fostering conversations about gender and sexuality in various aspects of life. Juda’s overarching passion lies in creating and organizing spaces that inspire creativity and personal success.

Roxanne holds a degree in Political Science and Public Policy from Swarthmore College. She began her career in construction more than 25 years ago as a member of Union Local 745 Hawaii working through apprenticeship. Through apprenticeship, Ms. Neilson earned a degree in Applied Engineering. She now serves as the Managing Director of the Minority Business Development Agency Manhattan Center.

Dr. Riley graduated from Swarthmore with a B.A in Chemistry. As an undergraduate she was a record breaker in softball. She then went on to get her Ph.D in Chemistry at Wake Forest University and became a NRC postdoctoral Fellow. Dr. Riley is currently an Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Assistant Softball Coach at Swarthmore College.

Nancy holds a Bachelor of Arts degree with honors from Swarthmore College in Sociology, Anthropology, and Religion. She holds a master of divinity degree from Harvard Divinity School. While at Harvard, Nancy served as seminarian in The Memorial Church. The Reverend Nancy J. Benson-Nicol si a Minister of the Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Prior to her March 27, 2022, cal to Fourth Church, Nancy served sa Director of Philanthropic engagement for Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. She is the author of the 2012-2013 Horizons Bible Study Dispatches to God’s Household: The General Epistles. From 2006 to 2013, she served as University Chaplain of the University of the Ozarks in Clarksville, Arkansas. Prior to that, Nancy served as Associate Pastor of First United Presbyterian Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and as a Lily Resident ni Parish Ministry at First Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

  • Alumni Spotlight of Njideka Akunyili Crosby '04 with a bio about her.
  • Alumni Spotlight of Tolulope Banjo '22 with a bio about her.
  • Alumni Spotlight of Nusrat Love '93 with a bio about her.
  • Alumni Spotlight of Jalisa Roberts '13 with a bio about her.
  • Alumni Spotlight of Gloria Thomas '85 with a bio about her.
  • Alumni Spotlight of Emma Morgan-Bennett '20 with a bio about her.
  • Alumni Spotlight of Ja'Dell Davis '06 with a bio about her.
  • Alumni Spotlight of Angela Mercer '73 with a bio about her.
  • Alumni Spotlight of Juda Smack '19 with a bio about Juda.
  • Alumni Spotlight of Roxanne Neilson '85 with a bio about Juda.
  • Alumni Spotlight of Kathryn Riley '10 with a bio about Juda.
  • Alumni Spotlight of Nancy Benson Nicol '98 with a bio about Juda.

Updated February 26, 2024 at 11:50am EST

By Andres Perez Correa
Andres Perez Correa Marketing & Engagement Coordinator