Makuu celebrates decade of cultural and academic support

Makuu Black Cultural Center means "home" or "headquarters" in Swahili. The name is fitting, because “home” is the word many students use to describe what Makuu means to them.

For 10 years, Makuu has provided resources for academic and personal support to black students from across the United States as well as those from the Caribbean, Africa and the West Indies.

“We have similar experiences in certain senses, but we also learn from each other because we have very disparate experiences,” says senior Ryan Jobson. A native of Woodstock, N.Y., Jobson has a large, close-knit extended family, and was looking for a group at Penn that was also like family. “We learn from each other and how to build our community through a space like Makuu,” he says.

At Makuu, students can participate in cultural events, meet people who share similar cultural experiences and discuss issues that affect blacks and other minority groups inside and outside the classroom.

“The ladies at Makuu have been emotionally supportive to me through tough times, they’ve celebrated me through my good times,” senior Renata Henry says. “They tell me who I should talk to for advice with college classes, they tell me who I should talk to about financial aid.”

Makuu is located in the Arch Building at 3601 Locust Walk, along with the Pan-Asian American Community House and La Casa Latina, the Center for Hispanic Excellence.

The cultural centers share one living room where students gather to study, share meals and chat. As a freshman, Justin Ching says he focused on being part of PAACH but then joined in activities with his friends at Makuu. Now, the senior attends events and uses the resources at both centers. “There’s sort of a natural tendency to go to a cultural center that’s the same identity as you,” Ching says. “But digging deeper, we are all people, and being able to make personal connections is so crucial to interculturalism itself.”

Karlene Burrell-McRae, the founding director of Makuu, says it’s rewarding to have a positive influence on students who use the center. “It’s being able to provide the support, the listening ear to advocate on behalf of students.”

Makuu plans a gala in February to celebrate the anniversary.

Originally published on Nov. 30, 2010.

Originally published on November 30, 2010