The Johnson House Opens for the 50th Anniversary of the Black Student Union

Fifty years ago, Eric Johnson ’72, P’08 founded the Black Student Union (BSU) at Babson College.

Now, with a 50th anniversary celebration this week and the opening of its new special-interest housing, the BSU is focused on increasing its impact on campus and around the world over the next 50 years.

The anniversary celebration culminates Saturday, September 26, at the fifth annual Black Affinity Network Family Reunion. The virtual event includes a panel discussion among BSU presidents from each decade, as well as a keynote address from Johnson, the president and CEO of Baldwin Richardson Foods Company, one of the largest African American-owned businesses in the food industry.

The event also includes the public unveiling of The Johnson House, the new special-interest living space in Canfield Hall that extends the legacy of Johnson and the BSU even further.

“It’s been a great experience,” said The Johnson House community manager Mezue Eneh ’22. “It’s been pure laughter each night. It’s so joyful to have this communal space for us, just to interact with one another.”

Solutions-Oriented Space

The Johnson House originated with Sydney Logan ’21, who pitched the idea for a housing space for students of color in her African American Literature class. The concept captivated the leaders of the BSU, including then-President Wes Woodson ’20, current President Jaylen Bell ’21, and a host of others.

As the BSU began formulating plans and refining its objectives for The Johnson House, the leaders discovered a startling statistic: The median net worth of a Black household in Boston is just $8, according to “The Color of Wealth in Boston,” a 2015 report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, Duke University, and the New School, a private research university in New York City.

“Being that we go to the No. 1 school in the world for entrepreneurship,” Bell explained, “we said what if we had a centralized space to honor our founder, Eric Johnson, and how can we create the space as a solution toward that wealth gap, and also bring about that unity within our community?”

Residents of The Johnson House meet in the common space
Residents of The Johnson House carry on the legacy of Eric Johnson ’72, P’08, the founder of the Black Student Union, which marks its 50th anniversary this year. (Jake Belcher Photography)

The Black Student Union launched a petition on that generated 500-plus signatures. Bell and Eneh then pitched the concept of The Johnson House to Babson Housing on February 15, outlining its mission and its objectives. Two weeks later, they received word that their vision for The Johnson House would become a reality this semester. “I actually cried,” Bell said.

The residents of The Johnson House—eight men, six women, with one open room—began moving into their grand new space on August 16. The house will be more than just a place to live but also will be a space for action with plans for virtual workshops, campus-wide community discussions, and an annual speaker series.

“We see this as a hub for economic development, unity, and education for students on this campus,” said Bell, who gave a moving speech during Babson’s Juneteenth commemoration. “We see this as being a framework where we can facilitate the resources at Babson to actually close the wealth gap 50 Juneteenths from now, so by June 19, 2070. That’s the long-term vision of how we plan to operate the house.”

A Tribute and a Thank You

For Bell, The Johnson House is personal. He’s not just the BSU president on its 50th anniversary, but he’s also a Baldwin Richardson Foods Scholar, the scholarship program started by Johnson to provide opportunities at Babson to exceptional minority students from Chicago.

Bell is one of two Baldwin Richardson Foods Scholars—along with Curtis Johnson ’23—currently living in The Johnson House, and he thanked Johnson in a recent phone conversation.

“I wanted him to realize that the reason behind the house was for all of us as a community to honor him, but for me to tell him thank you for giving back to the city of Chicago,” Bell said. “I’m so appreciative, and I’m grateful for the scholarship. It’s been a great relationship.”

The Johnson Legacy

That relationship takes another major step Saturday at the 50th anniversary celebration of the Black Student Union.

The virtual event includes a panel discussion among BSU presidents from each decade, in which Bell will join Craig Thaxton ’76, Jeffery Perry ’87, P’23, Leticia Stallworth ’99, MBA’13, Alvin Wade ’07, and Taelyr Roberts ’15. The discussion will be moderated by Associate Professor Tina Opie, the chair of the new Dean of Faculty, Faculty Committee for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Development.

The panel will precede Johnson’s keynote address on “The Johnson Legacy,” which extends even further with the opening of the new BSU living space on campus that bears his name.

“As we talk about how we can provide social economic value, even globally, I think it’s important to have a house and have a space dedicated to that on Babson’s campus,” Bell said. “There’s a need for social economic value globally, yes, but there’s a need for social economic value in our backyard, in Boston.”

MORE: Black Student Union’s 50th anniversary fundraiser to benefit The Johnson House

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