LOS ANGELES — To most of its former students, Howard University is the “Mecca” among historically black colleges and universities, with Thurgood Marshall, Donnie Hathaway, Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, Stokely Carmichael, Sean (P. Diddy) Combs, Ta-Nehisi Coates and actress Phylicia Rashad among its many noted alumni.
On May 20, at the Museum of African American Art, tucked away inside Macy’s at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, Rashad’s sister — famed dancer and choreographer Debbie Allen — along with several other Howard University alumni, were honored for their contributions in their respective professions.
In celebration of Howard University’s 150th anniversary, the Howard University Alumni Club of Los Angeles County honored Allen, California Senator Kamala Harris, attorney Kevin Mahoney and Tiffany Smith-Anoa’i at the inaugural “L.A. Bison Honors” gala dinner.
Harris, the first African American and first black woman to serve as state attorney general, did not attend the black-tie event, which served as a fundraiser. Harris is only the second African American woman to be elected to the U.S. Senate.
Though Harris was not able to attend, Allen, dressed in a stunning white outfit, talked about the invaluable impression of self-worth that Howard University gives to its to student-body. The school most definitely left that kind of impression on her, Allen said.
“Howard University has defined and strengthened my cultural identity. With that I have made a real impression on hundreds of thousands of young people,” Allen said. “Howard University gives you a certain strength with your cultural identity, and if you have that you can face anything in the world.”
For Smith-Anoa’i, executive vice president of Entertainment Diversity, Inclusion and Communications at CBS Entertainment, Howard University is all about representation. She should know.
In her current position, Smith-Anoa’i is responsible for ensuring diversity when it comes to talent — in front of the camera and behind the scenes.
“I think that Howard University, since its inception, has always been about higher learning, as well as showcasing that representation matters,” she said. “It is also something I follow in my own career right now.”
Smith-Anoa’i, who was given the Global Visionary Award for outstanding leadership in diversity and communications by the university in 2013, said she was excited to be on the receiving end of another award from Howard.
“It’s very surreal to think that your university deems you worthy of an honor,” Smith-Anoa’i said. “It’s a university that is near and dear to my heart that I am thrilled to be here. I still can’t believe that it is real.”
Mahoney, the founding principal of Mahoney Law Group, APC, in Long Beach, specializes in labor and employment litigation. Mahoney called the evening a special night and one he really wasn’t expecting.
“I consider this this to be a special event,” Mahoney said. “It’s an honor to be honored with such prestigious honorees. Never would I have thought that I would ever be honored amongst these greats.
“Howard is a great institution. I enjoyed my time there. My time at Howard was a period of intellectual expansion and I thank my lucky stars that I had the opportunity to attend the same law school as my mentor, Marcus Tucker.”
Proceeds from the “LA Bison Honors” event goes to the Howard University Alumni Los Angeles County scholarship fund, which benefits students attending the Washington, D.C. college in the fall of 2017.
Singer Sy Smith said Howard University is an institution she is proud of.
“Howard introduced me to other black and brown people who are always pursuing excellence, and introduced me to a generation of the best thinkers, the best writers, intellectuals,” Smith said.