Bryant Colson '80, who was the first Black student to be elected SGA president and to serve as editor-in-chief of The Pendulum, spoke to the Elon community during the Black History Month Kickoff event on Feb. 1.
Feb. 1 is a day filled with significant meaning as the first day of Black History Month and the anniversary of the historic Woolworth’s sit-in in Greensboro in 1960. Given that, Bryant Colson ’80, told the crowd gathered in Lakeside Tuesday that he was particularly honored to be asked to return to Elon on that day to share about his experiences while a student at the university in the late 1970s.
“I’m extremely happy to be here on Feb. 1. The A&T Freshman Four – Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair Jr. and David Richmond – those four gentlemen are heroes,” Colson said to the dozens in attendance for the annual Black History Month Kickoff event at Elon University. “They started a movement that spilled into 155 cities and 13 states over three months.”
During his conversation moderated by Naomi Washington ’24, Colson highlighted the heroism of figures in Elon’s history, including Glenda Phillips Hightower, the first full-time Black student at Elon, and Eugene Perry ’69, the first Black graduate of Elon.
“I had their shoulders to stand on, but they didn’t have any shoulders to stand on,” Colson said. “They had the man upstairs. They had a family and a few supportive professors and administrators here at Elon. They are the real heroes.”
Despite his modesty, Colson is a part of Elon history as well, serving as the first Black president of the university’s Student Government Association and the first Black editor-in-chief of The Pendulum, Elon’s student newspaper.
“I didn’t even think of it as making history because that wasn’t even important to us back then. We just did what we liked, and we did the job that we had to do,” Colson said. “But it did get me to develop what I know now as decent leadership skills.”
While a student at Elon, Colson said, he was fortunate to have found communities that served as his support base away from home. His roommate, Billy Doggett ’81, was on the football team, and that allowed Colson to become close with the athletes on campus. As a member of SGA, Colson felt a strong sense of connection with his fellow student senators and SGA presidents that succeeded him. And finally, with the other 214 Black students at Elon during his time.
“We were a close-knit family because we were, as we used to say back then, all we had,” Colson said when speaking of the solidarity of the Black students at Elon while a student.
He credited his deep relationships with members of those three communities with helping him become SGA president. “Those communities got me over the hump. Thankfully I won and it was fun,” he said.
Colson took questions from current Elon students after his main remarks. Zeth Dixon ’23 spoke about the strength of Elon’s current community but that it could always be stronger. He asked Colson about how his rich relationships as a student influenced him.
“The Black Cultural Society back then was the glue that held us all together. There were singings and prayer opportunities,” Colson said. “That type of intermingling kept us together. They were amazing people then and they are amazing people now.”
Dixon, along with Anne-Sophie Hill ‘23 and Candace Rhodes ’22, gave a musical performance to start the Black History Month Kickoff event and Rhodes closed with a solo performance of “Masterpiece (Mona Lisa)” by Jazmine Sullivan.
Colson, who currently serves on the Orange County Board of Elections, shared the significance of Black History Month and why February was chosen as the month of celebration. Carter G. Woodson, the second Black person to doctorate at Harvard and “father of Black history,” started Negro History Week in 1926.
Woodson chose February because of the birthday of iconic people in the story of Black history, such as Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. In 1976, former President Gerald Ford recognized Black History Month during the United States Bicentennial.
But the recognition of the achievements of African Americans is not something he limits to the month of February.
“Black history, to me, is something I celebrate every day,” Colson said. “There’s something on TV, some person that you meet, somebody that you talk to that makes you proud to be Black.”