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Sister Circle at Mānoa and Graduate Professional Access collaborate on the first Alice Ball Remembrance Walk.

The history of organized student representation for Black students goes back about 50 years at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. The first Black Student Union was organized in the 1970s under the leadership of Kathryn Takara, a poet, researcher, and one of the earlier Black woman professors on campus. Later, Power 96 was established, named after the number of African American students attending UH Mānoa at the time.

Related: UH celebrates Black History Month

Today, the Black Student Association (BSA) and the Sister Circle at Mānoa, like their predecessors, are continuing to foster unity, resilience and empowerment for the voices and experiences of the Black community at UH Mānoa. There are currently 343 students or 1.8% of the student body who identify as African American or Black.

Black Student Association

Established in 2016, BSA boasts a membership of 50, and takes pride in a successful record of advocacy and achievement.

three women in graduation gowns
Fall 2023 graduates at the Alice Augusta Ball Graduation Ceremony.

BSA‘s dedication to academic and social success is encapsulated in our multifaceted goals,” said founding member and current graduate advisor LaJoya Shelly, who earned a master’s of education in educational administration-higher education in 2017.

These goals include supporting the enrollment, retention and graduation of African diaspora students; increasing awareness of Black-centric issues, history and culture; promoting unity among African diaspora students; protecting the intersectional civil rights of this community; and advocating for the preservation of Black studies.

Among the organization’s impactful highlights include:

  • Establishment of the Alice Augusta Ball Black Graduation Ceremony in 2017, which pays homage to the first African American women to graduate from UH Mānoa. This annual event honors the achievements of graduating undergraduate, graduate and professional African diaspora students.
  • Reinstatement of the African American specialist position in the Department of Ethnic Studies in 2016.
  • Hosting a virtual talk with Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza in 2022.
  • Representing Black students at the Honoring Alice Ball Day event.

Sister Circle at Mānoa

Kathryn Takara and LaJoya Shelly
Kathryn Takara and LaJoya Shelly

Sister Circle at Mānoa has a mission of providing a nurturing space specifically for Black and Indigenous women on campus. Co-founded by graduate student Niya Denise McAdoo and Shelly in 2022, this registered independent organization currently includes 25 members.

The Sister Circle envisions itself as a hub for meaningful connections and a platform for sharing experiences related to racialized and gendered microaggressions. Their virtual monthly hui meetings and bi-weekly Sisters United Who Write meetups serve as crucial community building and academic spaces for Black, Indigenous and other women of color.

Since 2023, the organization has hosted the annual Alice Ball Remembrance Walk, which recognizes the importance of remembering and honoring Black history. Additionally, they have established the Philis Wheatley Free Black Women’s Library in Wist Hall, creating a tangible space to celebrate the literary works of African diaspora women and femmes.

For those who would like to support the promotion of Black studies at UH, they can donate to the UH Foundation fund.

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