ALTON — What began as a way for a group of friends to get together every few years has evolved into a philanthropic effort aimed at helping area youths.
The Friends of the 60s/Alton Black Alumni Association is getting ready for its 2016 Alton Black Alumni Reunion, the seventh of its kind, and this year the three-day event has taken on a charitable air. That’s because the group in June obtained 501 (c) (3) non-profit status, one of the primary goals identified by the organization’s recently formed board of directors.
Association President James H. Killion III said the idea for the biennial reunion weekend, which has grown in each subsequent iteration, started among his small group of friends more than a decade ago.
“We actually started the conversation back in 2003,” he said. “We normally attended our class reunions every 10 years. We started comparing notes, and we saw that, for the most part, when it came to black students, our classmates weren’t showing up for these 10-year reunions. So we were wondering why.
“As we were approaching our golden years, if you will, we were saying, it would be really nice if we could get some of those guys to come back, or if we could connect with them in some way.”
A “groundswell” of support for the idea culminated with the first reunion in 2004, Killion said. Roughly 150 people attended that first event, most of whom graduated from Alton High School in the 1960s.
As the years went on and the events became more popular, more people, from more graduating classes, wanted to get involved. In 2014, Killion said nearly 400 people attended one of the events over the course of the three-day weekend.
That interest has made this year’s reunion weekend, scheduled for Sept. 2-4, an all-ages event.
“Over the course of the years, we kept expanding,” Killion said. “So now, it’s an all-class reunion, regardless of what year.”
That following also gave organizers an idea. Killion said group members noticed the reunions drew Alton graduates who hadn’t been back to the area since their high school days. Some had gone on to influential careers, and having them all in one place felt like an opportunity.
It was then that Killion and others decided to make the weekend “more than just a social event.”
“We started thinking, wow, we’ve got all that talent, and they’re coming back here every two years — why don’t we tap into that talent,” Killion said. “We’ve got young kids that are growing up here in Alton right now that are struggling and trying to find their way, and just like back in the ’60s, we didn’t have people of success that look like us. Now, we have that. So why don’t we make it a reality, and why don’t we tap into some of the successes of these people, bring them back, have them invest in our youth and see if we can’t help some of these kids along the way.”
On Saturday, Sept. 3, the Inaugural Black Alumni Weekend Career Panel will take place from 10 a.m. to noon at the Alton YWCA, 304 E. Third St. A panel of diverse professionals, all with Alton roots, will address an audience of mostly Alton High School juniors and seniors, Killion said. Audience members will also have a chance to ask questions of the panel members. The event is free to attend, but seating is limited.
Of course, there will also be plenty of opportunities for social interaction as well. A meet-and-greet event at Argosy Casino Alton on Friday, Sept. 2, will kick off the weekend, and Saturday, Sept. 3, will include a masquerade ball at The Commons at Lewis and Clark Community College’s Godfrey campus. The weekend ends with a worship service and family picnic at James H. Killion Park at Salu on Sunday, Sept. 4.
A donation of $25 is asked for the Friday meet-and-greet, $55 for Saturday’s masquerade ball, $15 for Sunday’s cookout or $95 for all three events over the course of the weekend. The majority of the money will go toward the organization’s scholarship program, which awarded its first scholarship in May.
To register or for more information, call (618) 208-7570, visit altonblackalumni.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org. To register for the career panel, RSVP to Shallyn Williams at (618) 521-4517 or Toi Williams at (618) 530-1816 by Aug. 26.
2016 Alton Black Alumni Reunion
Friday, Sept. 2
Pre-event at Miles Davis statue in Downtown Alton, 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.
• Discussions will include updates on the city and the background of the statue
Meet-and-greet at Argosy Casino, 6:30 p.m. to midnight
• Food, drinks, fun and dancing; $25 to attend
Saturday, Sept. 3
Leo C. Cox Biennial Memorial Scholarship Golf Outing, 9 a.m. to noon, Cloverleaf Golf Course, 3555 Old Fosterburg Road, Alton
• Register by Aug. 27, $25 to attend
Inaugural Black Alumni Weekend Career Panel, 10 a.m. to noon, YWCA, 304 E. Third St., Alton
• Providing examples of successful black Alton High School alumni to area youths of color
Masquerade ball, 6 p.m. to midnight, The Commons at Lewis and Clark Community College, 5800 Godfrey Road, Godfrey
• St. Louis R&B band NO ID, featuring Alton native Jesse Prather, will perform, along with St. Louis R&B singer Flirt; $55 to attend
Sunday, Sept. 4
Cookout, 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., James H. Killion Park at Salu, Washington Avenue at Salu Street, Alton
• Worship service (10:30 a.m. to noon) followed by a family picnic featuring soul food and other fun; $15 to attend