Alumnae gather in Athol to honor Spelman College founders

Spelman College alumnae sing the “Spelman Hymn” at the resting place of college founders Harriet B. Packard and Harriet E. Giles as part of the Founders Day celebration held on Saturday, April 20.

Spelman College alumnae sing the “Spelman Hymn” at the resting place of college founders Harriet B. Packard and Harriet E. Giles as part of the Founders Day celebration held on Saturday, April 20. PHOTO BY GREG VINE

Teri Jackson Wright, northeast regional director of the National Alumnae Association of Spelman College, welcomes alumnae and visitors to Saturday's Founders Day celebration at Silver Lake Cemetery.

Teri Jackson Wright, northeast regional director of the National Alumnae Association of Spelman College, welcomes alumnae and visitors to Saturday's Founders Day celebration at Silver Lake Cemetery. PHOTO BY GREG VINE

By GREG VINE

For the Athol Daily News

Published: 04-22-2024 4:22 PM

ATHOL – Saturday’s morning rain did little to dampen the enthusiasm of those who attended the third annual Spelman College Founders Day at Silver Lake Cemetery to honor Sophia B. Packard and Harriet E. Giles.

According to the college’s web site, the two women from New Salem “journeyed together from New England to Georgia with the mission of creating an educational opportunity to uplift recently-freed Black women. On that extraordinary day, April 11, 1881, Sophia B. Packard and Harriet E. Giles, supported by a village of allies and advocates, began the Spelman legacy.”

The event began with a short march by the gathered alumnae, which culminated with the laying of wreaths at the graves of the Packard and Giles. The celebration concluded with the gathered alumnae holding hands in a circle around the resting place of Packard and Giles as they sang the “Spelman Hymn.”

Teri Jackson Wright, northeast regional coordinator for the National Alumnae Association of Spelman College (NAASC), welcomed about 20 Spelman graduates and a handful of area residents to the celebration.

Following the recital of the Alumnae Prayer, NAASC President Keva Wright Berry told those gathered, “These two women had a vision to educate that resulted, somehow, in (Spelman) being named the number one HBCU (Historically Black College/University) for 17 consecutive years. Since our founding in 1881 in the basement of Friendship Baptist Church…Spelman College has been the premier institution for the education of women of the African diaspora. And we rejoice that we have been the beneficiaries of Ms. Packard’s and Ms. Giles’s profound and bold vision.”

The guest speaker for the event was April English, chief secretary of the Office of Massachusetts Gov. Maura T. Healey—the first black chief secretary to the governor in the state’s history.

“That’s who I am professionally. Who I am – who I am,” she emphasized, “is your Spelman sister. Anybody who knows me knows that sisterhood, black womanhood, and joy are my thing. First and foremost, how I move is through the lens of a black woman – unapologetically.

“I (am) always moving forward but never forgetting where I came from. My motto is, ‘God made me. My mama raised me.’ And Spelman taught me and made me into the phenomenal woman that I am today.”

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English said she found out what “love and sisterhood truly means” when she was comforted by her housemates – “my Spelman sisters” – following a family tragedy.

“Spelman is a gift of education for black girls and dreams,” she said. “It is a space in which we feel safe and can be seen in our own authentic black girlhood and womanhood.”

Reflecting on her own experience at Spelman, as well as several other graduates, English said, “I love us. I love you. I love Spelman. I love the sisterhood – our sisterhood. It is like no other and will live on past all of us. Oh, God, forever bind our hearts to thine for we are Spelman; this is our sisterhood, and you are my sisters.”

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com.